US Poultry

TUCKER, Ga. – USPOULTRY and the USPOULTRY Foundation announced the completion of a research project that will make it easier for processors to detect a muscle abnormality that’s found in some chicken breast fillets. The condition, called wooden or woody breast, hardens some portions of the breast meat tissue leaving it undesirable when consumed. The research, which used imaging technology to detect the wooden breast condition, was conducted by Dr. Brian Bowker at the US Dept. of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service’s (USDA-ARS) National Poultry Research Center in Athens, Georgia.

Currently, the industry doesn’t have a system in place to detect wooden breast at the processor level. The current method involves tactile evaluation and product handling by quality assurance personnel. The product is not unsafe for consumption, however the hardened tissue is not particularly palatable. Processors typically remove the fillets and transfer them to further processing, oftentimes converting the fillets into ground product.

The objective of the USDA-ARS study was to determine whether a technique such as imaging technology could assist processors in detecting the condition in the product so that it can be segregated from the rest of the product line.

During the study, multiple imaging technologies were utilized in an attempt to differentiate normal breast fillets from wooden breast-affected breast fillets. The research showed that imaging technology could detect chicken breast fillets affected with wooden breast more than 95 percent of the time.

“These results point to the feasibility of adapting imaging technology to detect wooden breast in an online processing plant setting,” USPOULTRY said in a statement.

The research was funded by USPOULTRY as well as by an endowment gift from GNP Company. This study is part of the association’s ongoing research program encompassing all phases of poultry and egg production and processing.

In addition to this research study, USPOULTRY is currently funding three other research projects — two at North Carolina State Univ. and one at the Univ. of Delaware — to investigate the cause of the wooden breast condition. The industry is still unclear of the cause, which makes eliminating the condition more of a challenge. The university studies, as well as studies being conducted on the processor and breeding level, are examining genetics, nutrition, poultry growth patterns — nothing is being ruled out, according to Dr. John Glisson, vice president of research programs at USPOULTRY. 

“They’re [the researchers] all looking at it from different areas which is what you have to do when there’s an unknown,” Glisson said.

Read more about wooden breast condition in the September issue of MEAT+POULTRY.