MIA Focus: red meat packaging technology evolving

Kaylene Larking
Kaylene Larking: intrigued with the possibilities of food nanotechnology for New Zealand chilled meat.

Exploring smart thinking in food nanotechnology, new skin-packaging technology and proof-of-origin are all part of the evolving picture for New Zealand’s red meat packaging.

Smart thinking in food nanotechnology will play a part in the next generation of New Zealand’s high-value chilled meat packaging technology. A paper at the sixty-third  International Congress on Meat Science and Technology held in August in Cork, Ireland caught the eye of one of the New Zealand delegation, Kaylene Larking, the Meat Industry Association (MIA)’s partnership manager.

Michael Morris from Trinity College, Dublin, presented his and his colleagues’ work on block polymers in a new paper Development of active, nanoparticle, antimicrobial technologies for muscle-based packaging applications, which has subsequently been published in the July edition of Meat Science journal (volume 132 [2017], pages 163-178). The work was funded by Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland.

The paper’s abstract suggests packaging needs to evolve to meet the challenges of long-distance travel of fresh meat and customers’ demands for even longer shelf-life and storage capability to avoid food waste. It takes a closer look at some of the new strategies being developed using novel nanotechnology concepts that show the potential to significantly extend shelf-life by providing commercially-applicable, antimicrobially-active, smart packaging solutions. These include surface activation and antimicrobial deposition procedures for the development of active packaging materials and antimicrobial deposition and coating methods. Solvent casting and extrusion techniques are also covered in the paper. “Enormous opportunities” are presented for food scientists and stakeholders to identify, design and develop new strategies for advanced applications and market gains, the authors conclude.

Morris’ paper piqued Larking’s attention in particular, she says, because MIA Innovation has antimicrobial active packaging on its work list. One of the problems identified by these researchers was that, because of evaporation, the antimicrobials often wick away from the packaging. Morris’ research shows a potential for nanotechnological materials incorporating silver or copper to be added at very low and safe levels, well below intake levels, into polymer substrates to seal the packaging and also produce antimicrobial properties.

“It’s smart technological thinking,” says Larking. “It’s highlighted the need to understand the qualities of polymers when we look at packaging in our research portfolio.”

Morris et al’s work was one of three packaging papers at ICOMST, says Larking.  Another was from US scientist Ken McMillin from Louisiana State University Agricultural Centre incorporating information on the scientific advances underpinning developments in meat packaging (subsequently published in Meat Science, volume 132 [2017], 153-161) and Eva Santos from Mexico’s Universidad Autónoma del Eastado de Hidalgo talked about meat preservation by an antimicrobial edible coating.

Also noted at the conference was that, often, packaging companies are ahead of researchers in the area, but reluctant to share with the community because of commercial sensitivity.

“In my personal opinion, overall, New Zealand is up there with other meat research groups in the world,” Larking comments. “Our scientists are well connected and seem to be involved in many similar areas of research to that presented,” she says, adding she didn’t really see anything “startlingly new” at the conference.

Two New Zealand meat scientists were included on the 2017 ICOMST programme. AgResearch’s Dr Cameron Craigie presented a paper on the application of hyper-spectral imaging to predict the pH, intramuscular fatty acid content and composition of lamb. Mustafa Farouk also talked about New Zealand’s work on reversible head-to-body pre-slaughter halal stunning.

Two New Zealand meat research papers are also listed amongst the 18 most influential meat science papers of the past 40 years, according to a special promotional anniversary edition of Meat Science. Former MIRINZ meat researcher, Carrick Devine, was involved in two studies looking at the effects of ultimate pH on tenderness changes during aging (vol 42, p 67) and also the biochemical and physical effects of electrical stimulation on beef and sheepmeat tenderness (vol 65, page 677).

Skin packaging opening new export doors for Alliance

Te Mana LambNew skin packaging technology has been trialled recently by Alliance at its Lorneville plant near Invercargill, opening doors to the export of retail-ready premium cuts to high-end consumer markets worldwide.

The trial is part of the Omega Lamb Project Primary Growth Partnership (PGP), a partnership between Alliance, Headwaters and the Ministry for Primary Industries, which this year launched the new Te Mana Lamb into premium restaurants in New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Te Mana Lamb is a new kind of lamb that has higher levels of polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids – producing healthier sheep and healthier, tastier, more succulent meat.

Skin packaging Te Mana Lamb for New Zealand food home delivery service My Food Bag’s Gourmet Bag has proven a great success, according to Alliance marketing development services manager Gary Maclennan.

“The first time we put Te Mana Lamb into My Gourmet Bag it achieved a consumer feedback rating record, scoring a massive 4.7 out of 5,” he says.

“They love the product and the skin packaging presentation is just stand-out. It has a really high-visual impact, allowing consumers to see the freshness and quality of the meat.”

Skin packaging is an anaerobic packaging technology that hermetically seals right to the edge of the meat cut, extending chilled shelf-life for up 12 weeks, retaining colour, optimising meat tenderness and with reduced meat drip loss.

Because of the materials used, skin packaging gives flexibility to package small consumer-ready products across a range of cuts including chilled, frozen, bone-in and boneless – compared to less flexible vacuum packaging which is used for larger primal cuts to export wholesale markets.

“Skin packaging has taken off in the UK but is not yet widespread internationally and you won’t find it much in New Zealand,” says McLennan.

“We’ve been successfully trialling very small, low-weight packs as little as 150gm to 200gm in local supermarkets here, at very good price points. It presents really well.

“Ultimately, skin packaging opens doors to the world, allowing us to send high-value consumer products into the world’s top supermarkets and food chains as opposed to wholesalers and further processors.”

As well as Te Mana Lamb trials, Alliance has launched commercial trials in export markets this season sending chilled retail-ready products as far afield as Switzerland and frozen diced curry and lamb cutlet packs into India’s high-end organised retail outlets.

“We’re now exploring opportunities in China where the chilled meat market has opened with the six-month trial period in progress.”

Alliance has also set its sights on growth markets in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Brazil where it will be launching trials of skin-packaged products into premium retail and e-commerce channels.

“At this stage, we’ve invested at a small scale in the technology, but we expect to outgrow that machinery quite quickly as the market grows.”

Silver Fern Farms beef packaging
The new Silver Fern Farms beef packaging with the Oritain mark, providing proof-of-origin.

Silver Fern Farms new packaging includes 100% proof-of-origin

New retail packaging that is progressively being rolled out by Silver Fern Farms in New Zealand and overseas has two new traceability features.

The company’s chief executive Dean Hamilton, explains firstly it will include a unique, fraud-proof, QR code on every pack.

“This will allow the consumer to scan the code to verify that it is a 100%-authentic Silver Fern Farms product. It will show which region in New Zealand the product came from, link the consumer to stories of farmers in that region as well as recipes for the specific product that has been purchased,” he says.

The second feature is certification from Oritain, providing proof to the consumer that the product is true to Silver Fern Farms’ ‘100% made of New Zealand’ commitment, says Hamilton.

“We have been working with the New Zealand origin verification company for over three years to develop a scientific traceability system for our products to provide proof-of-origin certification for our consumers.”

This article appeared in Food NZ magazine (October/November 2017) and is reproduced here with permission.

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