Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tender steak - EVERY time

A US university says it is close to commercialising technology to predict meat tenderness, potentially bridging the gap on one of the Australian beef industry's big marketing advantages in the form of Meat Standards Australia (MSA). Yes.....Australia does have meat standards although consumers might not realise it, something not operating in the US.

There has been a lot of research on animal management and handling which does show very positive effects on carcase and meat performance after slaughter, if animals are handled and managed properly in the period before and after slaughter. Most producers are aware of this need to manage the animals properly. This approach is critical in subsequent meat performance. The approach in the US tries to actually measure outcomes of the whole process, by directly checking the carcase /meat.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) scientists have developed a way to predict steak tenderness, saying the technology could be a boon to the beef industry as it would allow retailers to charge a premium for a "guaranteed tender" label. "Beef tenderness is a primary factor in consumer satisfaction," said Jeyamkondan Subbiah, the UNL food engineer who heads the research. "However, a sufficiently accurate, non-destructive method of on-line evaluation of tenderness continues to elude the beef industry."

Current US Department of Agriculture grading standards classify beef carcasses into quality and yield grades but do not assess tenderness. As carcasses are not priced on the basis of tenderness, producers do not have a financial incentive to supply a tender product. Consumers think they should!

The beef industry has long sought technology that could scan fresh meat at two to three days post mortem and predict its tenderness when the consumer cooks it about two weeks later.

"There is a growing recognition that beef tenderness must be incorporated into the USDA quality grading process if true, value-based marketing is to be developed," Subbiah and other authors wrote for a recent presentation on the issue.

UNL is developing that technology. Its approach uses hyperspectral imaging, a novel technology that combines video image analysis and spectroscopy. The system consists of a digital video camera and spectrograph to capture the two key qualities that affect beef tenderness: muscle structure and biochemical properties. In the research, two-day aged, 1 in. thick rib-eyes were placed on a plate and scanned by the system, which captures multiple images at hundreds of wavelengths with regular intervals.

The combination of the video images and spectroscopy is key, Subbiah said.

The video technology captures the muscle profile. Tender beef has fine muscle fibers, while tough beef has visibly coarser muscle fibers. The spectroscopy measures biochemical properties that indicate how much the steak will become tender during aging.

After scanning, the steaks were cooked and tested.

Results so far are promising. The system predicted three tenderness categories - tender, intermediate and tough -- with about 77pc accuracy and two tenderness categories - acceptable and tough - with 93.7pc accuracy.

"Beef is expensive. Consumers expect it to be tender. One bad experience can make them not buy beef for awhile," Subbiah said. "We think consumers are willing to pay a premium for a guaranteed-tender product."

Subbiah said that premium could be $1-2/lb.

Hyperspectral imaging is not new. Previously, it has been used to determine nutrient deficiency in plants, fecal contamination in chicken and fungal/bacterial contamination in fruit.

Researchers will continue to hone this process.

Meanwhile, UNL is patenting the technology and hopes to identify a business interested in partnering on commercialization. Critical to commercializing the technology will be finding a way "to take it from the lab to the plant," Subbiah said.

The industry must be able to use it to evaluate a carcass, not individual steaks, and do it in about 10 seconds per carcass. "It has to be done in the current mode of operation," without any additional time-consuming steps, Subbiah added. Such commercialisation is likely two to three years away, he added.

* A related video of the imaging process is available at http://www.feedstuffsfoodlink.com/.

partially sourced from Feedstuffs, USA

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