Balancing act

by Kimberlie Clyma
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Meat and poultry processors agree extending the shelf-life of meat products is beneficial to them as well as to consumers. Depending on whether processors are dealing with fresh meat, frozen product, cooked or cured meat, there are a number of different ingredients that can extend the shelf-life of meat. However, extending shelf-life without adding too many chemicals – that will either interfere with the product’s clean-label initiative or interrupt the industry’s effort to reduce sodium in meat products – is the true challenge.

“Meat and poultry processors worldwide are looking for effective ingredients and processes to maximize the shelf-life of their products without scaring away consumers using chemical preservatives,” says Rick Cassidy, executive vice president of product development for BindMax Proteins. However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to shelf-life issues when it comes to meat. Each category of meat has different shelf-life issues and concerns to consider.

The downside

All food processors are being asked – to meet consumer demands as well as government mandates – to reduce sodium in foods, and meat and poultry products are no exception. The sodium in question in meat products includes sodium chloride, sodium lactate, sodium diacetate, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite. However, with an across-the-board reduction of these chemicals processors run the risk of reducing shelf-life and exposing consumers to food poisoning or rancidity problems. So where’s the happy medium?

“Today’s meat processors are actively searching for antimicrobial products that provide a reduction or elimination of sodium that may be originating from their current antimicrobial, while providing a ‘clean label’ alternative,” says Dr. Joe Yates, applications specialist with WTI Inc., Jefferson, Ga. “The efforts to reduce sodium content within the product coupled with a clean-label initiative can significantly challenge some or all attributes that the product is known for. These attributes include flavor profile, textural properties (binding), water activity (yield), food safety and shelf-life.”

Ingredient suppliers like BindMax Proteins, New Berlin, Wis., are developing and marketing healthy, natural alternatives that aid shelf-life. “BindMax is working on a line of hydrolyzed meat and poultry stocks that will enhance flavor and moisture retention needed after sodium is reduced. The herbal antimicrobial blends, the shelf-life stabilizers, still need some fine-tuning to minimize the flavor impact,” Cassidy says.

Suppliers of functional antimicrobial ingredients must be able to provide efficacy data that documents testing conditions coupled with microbiological data, Yates says. Meat processors will also be interested in how the microbial ingredient will be listed on the label. Can this ingredient be considered “clean?”

WTI offers several options to help meat processors achieve reduced-sodium and clean-label objectives. Potassium IONAL PLUS contains potassium citrate and sodium diacetate and is best suited for fresh-meat applications to enhance flavor, color retention and shelf-life extension. Potassium IONAL LC is targeted for the inhibition of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat products.

WTI also offers its MOstatin product line, which range from 64.00 mg to 0.26 mg of sodium contribution when used at the recommended 2 percent level (of the meat weight). These products are labeled as containing “vinegar” or “lemon juice concentrate and vinegar” and can be labeled as “natural.”

“We are continuing to study and test the efficacy of new ingredients and processing innovations for use with the meat and poultry industry,” Yates says. “We work very close with our customers to understand their needs and provide customized solutions.”

Purac, Lincolnshire, Ill., offers products designed for shelf life extension and pathogen control that also meet clean-label demands.

“Our Verdad range includes sugar and corn syrup based ferments that appeal to the end consumer because they are label friendly yet provide powerful and effective food safety and shelf-life functionality with no adverse flavor issues,” says Joy Vimalarajah, Purac sales director.

Who’s going to pay?

Regardless of the products selected to help extend meat shelf-life, there remains the hurdle of cost point for the product. Meat processors don’t want to have to pass on to the consumer the added cost of the inclusion of a new antimicrobial or clean-label ingredient added to their products.

“Most existing product lines have very narrow margins to begin with and the inclusion of an antimicrobial ingredient to improve shelf-life is thought to benefit the manufacturer, but not the entire supply chain,” Yates says. “Everyone wants more shelf-life, but not everyone’s willing to pay for it.”

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