New method of improving meat tenderness at Alliance

Meat processor and exporter Alliance Group is helping a researcher to examine whether directing short bursts of high voltage electricity through red meat can improve its tenderness.

Pulsed electric field (PEF) technology sends controlled electrical pulses through food to accelerate processes involved in determining meat tenderness.

Although whole carcases have been subjected to electrical stimulation (ES) since the 1970s, its tenderising effects are limited to a few muscles on the carcase.

Now a research team, led by Dr Alaa Bekhit from the University of Otago, has found the use of PEF technology can enhance the tenderness of different meat cuts following tests on a range of beef cuts from Alliance Group’s Pukeuri plant.

The study suggests PEF can safely enhance meat tenderness with reduced side effects, such as structural changes and off-flavours. The research also indicates the level of voltage, frequency and time can be optimised to maximise the tenderness of different meat cuts.

Gary Maclennan, marketing development services manager at Alliance Group, says the study is another example of the cooperative’s commitment to innovative research and development to improve meat quality and drive better returns for suppliers in its global markets.

“This study is encouraging for us because factors such as the time elapsed from the meat being processed to being sold overseas can have an impact on the quality of meat that consumers purchase.

“The quality often comes down to natural aspects in the meat, which influence toughness, moisture and shelf life. This study indicates we may have greater control over these aspects.

“If we can increase the tenderness of our products to be at their best when they’re purchased, our customers will be able to enjoy the best-tasting meat no matter where they are in the world.”

He adds: “While this study involved a limited sample, there is potential for this technology to be applied to less tender meat cuts in order to enhance their tenderness than traditionally possible.”

Dr Bekhit, an expert in food science, says the study is the first step in determining how PEF technology can be applied effectively to fresh meat processing.

“Meat tenderness is a major eating quality attribute that ensures consumer satisfaction and repeat purchase of red meat.

“Tenderness is arguably the most important quality attribute of red meat. After the meat is cooked, many of the appearance attributes become irrelevant, and flavour can be influenced with other ingredients in the meal or added flavours.

“The production of consistently tender meat is important as red meat is competing with other types of meat such as poultry and tender meat cuts also fetch a higher premium than the less tender meat cuts, helping to maximise the financial gain.”

The research also identifies that because of differences between each muscle in a carcase, it is impossible to deliver the optimal conditions for tenderness development for each muscle using traditional methods.

Because pulsed electric field technology has the potential to improve the tenderness of individual muscles, it could help meat processors capture the maximum economic benefit of each cut of meat from a whole carcase.

Some research has highlighted the potential benefits of the PEF technology to process fruit and vegetables but the latest research is the first to demonstrate its usefulness in meat, he says.

The research, published in the international journal Food and Bioprocess Technology, was supported by funding from the Australian Meat Processing Corporation Ltd and Meat and Livestock Australia.

Material supplied by Alliance.

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