Shifting gears

by Bryan Salvage
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Thirty years ago, processors were controlling fat in products with ingredients featuring fat-binding qualities. Demand then shifted to ingredients that stabilize the water to increase yields, says Bob Rust, Professor Emeritus, Iowa State Univ., Ames, Iowa.

"[The need to increase yields] opened the door for ingredients like starches. Carageenan’s claim to fame also is the ability to bind water," Rust adds.

As the industry began creating lower-fat products, it required ingredients that had a better ability to bind water. In extending shelf life, lactates and diacetates get the job done, Rust says. Phosphates help, too.

In recent years the shift to "natural" meat and poultry products has impacted which ingredients can be used in such products. Phosphates have clear benefits, Rust says, "but if you’re making a natural product, phosphates, along with most of the other ‘chemicals’ used to extend shelf life and yield, are now out of the picture. ‘Natural’ limits you."

North Country Smokehouse, Claremont, N.H., processes a variety of products including hams and pork chops, bacon, turkeys, sausages, chicken, duck, briskets and more. When asked what his company uses to increase yields or extend shelf-life, Mike Satzow, president, answers: "We do use a limited amount of phosphates to extend the green meat block…The primary requirement [of any ingredient we use] is it must complement the quality of the meat; that is paramount to gain the customer’s acceptance."

Non-allergenic binders

One ingredient trend that results in yield improvement is a move toward non-allergen binders, such as starch, fermented sugars and spices, says Rick Cassidy, vice president of product development, BindMax Proteins, New Berlin, Wis. "Although carrageenan is a very effective non-allergen waterbinder/yield-improver, its price has risen dramatically recently, making it not quite as attractive as it was a year ago," he adds.

Companies that used to use more than one allergen (soy, milk, eggs, etc), are now more likely to use one allergen to avoid multiple equipment cleaning between product runs, he says.

Shelf-life ingredient trends must be divided into two segments: traditional processed meat and poultry items and USDA "natural and organic" items, Cassidy says. Traditional meat products typically contain a combination of salt, sodium lactate and sodium diacetate for most items, and sodium nitrite and sodium erythorbate additionally in cured items. Certain phosphate blends normally added for yield improvement can also affect shelf life and block fat oxidation and warmed-over flavors.

"In the natural and organic meat sectors, ingredients like iodized salt, sodium lactate, sodium diacetate, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite are not permitted," he says. "The natural/organic products typically contain combinations of sea salt, lactic-acid starter cultures, celery extract, green tea extract, rosemary extract, lemon juice extract, garlic juice and vinegar-based ingredients to enhance shelf life. These natural antimicrobial ingredients are used in combination with post-packaging pasteurization to optimize shelf life."

When seeking to increase yields, Cassidy says meat and poultry processors may face challenges when removing allergen-based yield enhancers like soy and milk protein because these ingredients not only bind water to improve cook yield, but also affect texture, sliceability, color, flavor and the cost to make the finished meat product. "Processors should be open to the idea of using multiple, ‘clean label’ ingredients to replace a single allergen-based ingredient," he adds.

When changing shelf-life-improving ingredients, especially when moving toward natural/organic products, processors may have to accept shorter shelf-life in many cases, Cassidy says. "The best advice I can give is to keep an open mind, be willing to think outside the box and try new ingredients," he says. "Also, look to suppliers for technical assistance in reformulation help. The chances are their other customers are facing the same issues with shelf life that you are."

BindMax produces several new ingredients specifically designed to improve cook yield in processed meat and poultry without using sodium phosphate or allergens like milk and soy. Its PSS2 phosphate replacer is a fermented blend of native non-GMO potato starch, cane sugar and spice.

"For customers that do not want starch on the label, we have BindMax SS, which is a fermented blend of cane sugar and spice," he adds. "It is also effective at binding water without phosphates or allergens."

In addressing natural products, Cassidy says both the PSS2 and the SS ingredients qualify for USDA natural labeling. These two items compliment his company’s USDA natural cure products that replace sodium nitrite and sodium erythorbate, when used in cured meat items like natural hams, hot dogs and sausage, he adds.

"For organic meat products, we can make a fermented blend of organic cane juice solids and organic spices like deheated mustard, but since the majority of organic meat products fall under the 95-percent rule, it is not needed to source the more expensive organic phosphate replacers since the usage is less than 2 percent – which is well under the 5 percent non-certified organic ingredients permitted," Cassidy says.

‘Cost/value relationship’

Processors are increasingly conscious of the cost/value relationship in their functional-ingredient selections, says Robert Brooks, technical specialist, World Technology Ingredients Inc., Jefferson, Ga. "Escalating costs across the industry are driving processors away from lower-cost commodity ingredients to functional ingredient systems that add value to their processes and products," he adds.

One of the greatest challenges to increase yields is maintaining product quality, Brooks says. "While there are many systems available to improve product yields, typically only one or two produce an end-product meeting all of the processor’s established standards for any given project," he adds. "My best advice to meet this challenge is to ‘begin with the end in mind.’ It is much easier to make appropriate ingredient selections to meet your needs if you have an accurate depiction of your finished-product objectives."

Brooks also recommends utilizing the technical staff of the ingredient manufacturer to the fullest extent possible.

Similar challenges regarding product quality are faced when attempting to extend shelf life, Brooks says. "Some ingredient systems may impart unpleasant flavors or adversely affect the waterholding capacity of the finished product," he adds. "Another concern is efficacy of the ingredient for the specified application. Many ingredients are broad-spectrum antimicrobials. This means they are effective against a wide variety of bacterial species."

It is important to understand what bacteria species are affected by the selected ingredient, as a reduction in one organism may unintentionally allow proliferation of another, he says.

WTI is the exclusive U.S. distributor for two new products focusing on yield improvement and food safety. "We offer a corn-fiber product manufactured by Z Trim Holdings that is extremely efficient at water/marinade retention while providing freeze/thaw stability in a flavor-neutral package. In addition to its yield improvement characteristics, the corn-fiber product also serves as a fat-replacement alternative.

LISTEX, manufactured by EBI Food Safety, is a natural bacteriophage selected for its lethal performance against Listeria monocytogenes strains. It can be used as a post-lethality step under USDA/FSIS defined anti-Listeria protocols. LISTEX has no effect on the flavor or smell of the product, and has no adverse affect on desired bacteria such as starter cultures, he says.

WTI also offers a line of all-natural antimicrobial ingredients marketed under the MOstatin brand. These ingredients are based on patented blends of fruit-juice concentrates and/or vinegar. They offer proven shelf-life extension and pathogen inhibition with a consumer-friendly label declaration. WTI also offers TenderIn as an all-natural alternative to phosphates. These patented ingredients employ functional aspects of fruit-juice concentrates to improve product yield while enhancing organoleptic qualities.

In most cases, the natural ingredients offered by WTI can be certified organic. "However, the low demand and lack of organically-certified raw materials may cause organic certification to become cost-prohibitive," Brooks cautions.

Seeking longer shelf life

Manufacturers, retailers, foodservice operators and consumers want meat and poultry products that exhibit longer shelf life, says Robin Peterson, business development manager for PURAC America Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., a subsidiary of CSM. But processors face challenges when working with ingredients that extend shelf life.

"The first challenge is labeling," she says. "Consumers and retailers are becoming more particular about ingredients on the product label. This limits processors in terms of the types of ingredients they can use to extend shelf life." In addition, some retailers sell in bulk, which by definition usually means product will be stored in the refrigerator for longer periods of time.

The second challenge in this tightmargin business is cost. "Ultimately, processors often see overall cost savings by using antimicrobials because they will get additional shelf life," she says. "The benefits of extended shelf life pay for ingredient use. A third concern is how an antimicrobial might affect the flavor and color of a finished product.

PURAC offers sodium lactate products and lactate blends for extending shelf life and controlling pathogens. Lactates can help maintain color, provide antimicrobial protection and can help slightly with yield because they are hydroscopic, she adds.

"Currently in launch is our new, clean label product line, PuraQ Verdad. Verdad is designed for fresh and fully-cooked meat and poultry products," Peterson says. "It contains a variety of organic acids, which are very good antimicrobials."

PuraQ Verdad products are based on corn or cane sugar fermentations, which yield customer-friendly ingredient statements. "Processors appreciate the chance to have a friendlier-sounding label [‘cultured sugar’ instead of lactate]," she says. "From a functionality standpoint, PuraQ Verdad is also performing very nicely."

Sodium lactate is also cleared for use in organic meat and poultry products.

Regarding natural products, at present a meat or poultry product can contain a natural label if it’s no more than minimally processed and if it contains no chemical preservatives. Certain dual-function ingredients were exempted from this policy when originally adopted in 1982. As a result, Peterson says ingredients such as salt, lemon juice, natural flavors and vinegar are among the few ingredients with antimicrobial properties which can continue to be used in natural products to extend shelf life, but they can be expensive.

Other antimicrobial intervention options include processing technologies like high-pressure and post-pasteurization or the use of processing aids, which do not have to be listed on a label, she adds.

Today’s customer demands value, or getting "the most bang for the buck," says Jim Anderson, technical director: Meat, Poultry, Seafood, BK Giulini Corp., Simi Valley, Calif. – the North American marketing arm of BK Giulini GmbH, Germany, a leading phosphate producer owned by Israel Chemicals Ltd.

"Phosphates are the most effective functional ingredient concerning yield," he adds. "Specialty phosphates – objective dependent phosphates – deliver supreme yields, especially when quality of final product is considered."

Another aspect of yield is shelf-life extension. Ingredients used in antimicrobial systems contribute acidity and, in turn, yields are compromised, he says. "The proper specialty phosphate used in conjunction with these systems can largely maintain yield levels at pre-antimicrobial levels," he adds. "Industry-wide, we are seeing approximately 2 percent reinstitution of yield – a huge dollar amount."

Most processors do not optimize their ingredients, Anderson says. "We see many formulations that are too dense – 40 to 50 percent concentrations are common," he adds. "This creates an environment where too many ingredients are competing for too little water. The result is retardation of the ingredient’s efficacy, and often they end up going down the drain. Then moisture, which is native to the meat, is drawn out to equilibrate moisture requirements of ingredients. How counter-productive is that? Yet, we see it every day."

Giulini offers its BRIFISOL phosphate lineup, which has specific phosphates to complement acidic marinades whether they are used for shelf-life extension or flavor.

Anderson said he does not know if it has peaked or plateaued, but his company has seen requests for natural/organic meat ingredients drop significantly in favor of value-oriented ones. "Simply stated – the business model of asking the consumer to pay more for less quality is a model which is not sustainable, in my opinion," he says. "Extensive data states that a properly phosphate-marinated meat [red, poultry and seafood] is preferred in taste tests by 2:1 margins and costs significantly less to produce. This type of value is crucial, especially in the economic environment we are facing."

Consumer demand for meat and poultry products will continue changing. As a result, ingredient suppliers must stay one step ahead of processors to meet changing needs – and be able to change course on a dime whenever the next product trend begins to surface.

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