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Meat quality testing with food texture analyzer


Uniformity of meat quality is seen as an important factor by manufacturers for sustaining the high market share both locally and internationally. In particular, red meat quality can be affected in number of ways; the way animals are reared and meat handling during the production. Several experts have justified that meat tenderness is one of the most sought-after characteristics for high-quality meat. Measuring this characteristic was often done subjectively by structured taste panels. Objectively, the traditional Warner-Bratzler method is a well-established shear force test method for determination of meat tenderness. Food texture analyzer is considered as ideal instrument for performing this test method.

Texture analyzer is highly desirable for evaluating adhesion, firmness, hardness, chewiness and stringiness of food products. During production, the texture analyzer gives accurate indicators that can be used to control critical process, such as temperature, humidity and cooking time. For manufacturers, it is one type of instrument worthy to be considered for purchase as part of continuous improvement project throughout supply chain and production process.

Through Scottish Government-funded research program, the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) utilizes the TA1 texture analyzer from Lloyd Instruments to investigate novel testing technique for meat quality assessment. This program involves evaluation of a wide range of current test method in carcass and different type of meats. The tests include a new shear force test, the rapid slice shear force (SSF) test as well as near infrared reflectance and computed tomography measurements on meat samples.

Introducing Rapid Slice Shear Force Test

In the past, Warner-Bratzler (WB) test is the most popular method used in measuring the shearing resistance of meat. Six core samples, sliced parallel to the longitudinal orientation to the muscle fibers need to be taken and tested with the Warner-Bratzler jig. Due to its popularity, many research institutions developed variations to the original methods, which create a large variation in results from one institution to another.

The SAC in collaboration with the US government-funded research program, trialed a rapid slice shear force test as possible alternative to the Warner-Bratzler test. The texture analyzer was used and fitted with a custom-designed flat, blunt-ended blade. The shearing resistance of the meat was recorded as a function of time and displayed using the NexyGen Plus analysis software.

Unlike the WB test, the new rapid slice shear force test only requires one measurement on a 50mm by 10mm meat sample, cut orthogonally to muscle fiber orientation immediately post-cooking. Therefore, this new method is more efficient as measurement can be done without cooling the meat and only one measurement is required instead of six. The results are also objectively more reliable representations of meat tenderness and more repeatable than the WB test. In addition, the tenderness test results in this trial is also marginally better than that received through the WB test.

Types of Jigs and Fixtures

The texture analyzer can also be used to measure other textural properties, such as chewiness, firmness, hardness, springiness or stringiness. This can be achieved by using different types of jigs and fixtures. For example, meat toughness can be measured with Volodkevich bite set, which consists of a stainless-steel probe shaped like an incisor. Kramer shear cell can be used to measure the firmness of canned and re-formed meat. A three-point bind jig can be used to test the thickness or pasta, spaghetti and noodles. The three-point test is a very effective method to determine the correct cooking time and to assist manufacturers to understand the products’ behavior after freezing and keep the production cost at low.

Takeaway from the Industry

This research program from the SAC was a follow-up from a major research project with a number of partners aiming to enhance the reputation of Scottish meat in international market. Testing has been carried out across the entire supply chain process of meat production and it is expected to improve the eating quality of beef, lamb and pork. With over 100 farms and major meat processing industries involved in this program, it is expected that an effective objective testing method of carcass can be improved and good farm practice can be widespread across the nation to enhance the meat quality.

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