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Eating quality

The history of the food industry has taught us that a high level of consumer confidence in product performance is required for category success.

Studies of Australia's domestic consumers have identified five key drivers of demand for red meat products. Referred to as the five pillars of demand, they are:

  1. integrity
  2. enjoyment
  3. nutrition
  4. convenience
  5. value for money 

In scientific terms, “enjoyment” is captured in the study of 'Eating Quality'. Eating Quality includes flavour, tenderness, juiciness and overall liking and is determined by a multitude of physiological, animal production and meat processing as well as cooking method factors. 

MLA’s approach has been to develop improved fundamental understanding of the mechanisms underlying eating quality, to predict and identify eating quality and to develop interventions capable of maintaining or even improving eating quality during processing of carcases and ageing of meat.

Central to this technical approach has been the parallel development of an eating quality based meat grading system known as Meat Standards Australia (MSA), which has applied the technical insights from the study of mechanisms to the prediction of eating quality. For sheep an MSA grading is given for the whole carcase, whereas for beef grading can be given to specific cuts from a carcase. 

Post slaughter interventions studied have focused on electrical stimulation, novel stretching protocols, novel exogenous tenderisers, novel carcase chilling regimes, improved process control and more objective process and carcase measurements.

MLA's and AMPC’s goal for the Australian red meat industry is to be able to provide customers with beef and sheepmeat of consistent and predictable eating quality in both domestic and export markets.

The scope of MLA and AMPC’s  off-farm eating quality program is meat science and technology applications for the processing industry focussing on the following areas:

  • Processing interventions

Processing interventions are used to maintain, or even improve eating quality during the processing phase. Processing intervention include technologies such as:

  • Electrical stimulation 

Post Slaughter electrical stimulation is used for a number of purposes on the slaughter line and each application adds to a cumulative effect on eating quality. 

Stimulation can be used to immobilise the carcase during exsanguination, rigidifying the carcase during hide removal and accelerating the rate of pH fall in order to hit the target rates of temperature and pH decline (the target pH/T window)

  • Carcase stretching protocols

The degree of muscle extension as the carcase enters rigor has a significant effect on the eating quality and this has been built into the MSA grading model. 

Tenderstretch is a well-established alternative carcase hanging method which results in stretching/extension of certain muscles. A number of devices have been evaluated for the stretching of individual primals.

  • Exogenous tenderisers

The impact of microbial or fruit derived proteolytic enzymes on tenderness is well documented, but added enzymes can 'run away' with the proteolysis resulting in a meat that is overtenderised. 

A project is underway to devise an enzyme system that will stop when it has done enough tenderising and initial studies have characterised the enzyme kinetics and susceptibility to inhibitors.

  • Novel carcase chilling regimes 

Many studies have shown that the rates of decline of temperature and pH as the carcase loses heat post-slaughter are critical to eating quality. 

Improved methods of cooling and improved temperature decline trajectories have been studied with a view to optimising eating quality.

Process modellingThe biochemical processes involved in the development of meat eating quality are complex and highly inter-related. Process modelling can be used to improved process control.The rate of pH decline, for example, is different at different temperatures and meat colour is dependent on pH. 

The pH depends on the initial pH at slaughter, carcase size and lairage history of the animal. 

The rate of pH decline at a given temperature depends on the electrical stimulation history of the carcase and the impact of stimulation depends on the size of the carcase. 

Description of these complicated interactions, let alone their prediction is not simple and required the development of a mathematical model. 

Application of mathematical modelling of the muscle-to-meat conversion process has the potential to allow optimisation of meat quality for a given carcase.

  •  Online meat quality measurement

The use of online meat quality measurement will allow for more objective process and carcase measurements.

A number of technologies for measuring carcase characteristics are being investigated for use in a number of areas, including the prediction of eating quality. 

Further information

For further information, please contact:

Phil Franks

Manager, Science and Technology

Phone: 02 9463 9247

Email: mdc@mla.com.au

Meat & Livestock Australia acknowledge the matching funds provided by the Australian government and contributions from the Australian Meat Processor Corporation to support its research and development portfolio.