Lactates and phosphates continue to play an important role in meat processing.
Food additives have a long history of contributing to an affordable, quality and safe food supply. In the meat and poultry industries, a number of additives are necessary tools for the production of prepared meats such as ham and sausages, as well as for the enhancement of lower or leaner cuts of protein and for products intended for challenging environments such as those encountered in foodservice and extended distribution. Traditional, standard, proven-to-be safe ingredients are required. This includes lactates and phosphates.

 Lactates and phosphates are both ingredient families established as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which shares responsibility with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) when it comes to ingredients intended for meat and poultry. It is the latter that regulates usage of the ingredients in specific applications.

Such GRAS ingredients include substances considered harmless under prescribed conditions. They have been embraced by meat and poultry processors for years, and will continue to be used for their powerful and economical functional properties. Many processors, however, are eliminating such chemical-sounding ingredients from product formulations. It is possible, but with some shortcomings, namely higher prices and reduced shelf life. Processors need to weigh their options.

“The market pressure for shorter, simpler, easier-to-understand ingredient statements is providing considerable motivation for processors to reduce or even eliminate some of the traditional, well-established non-meat ingredients,” says Joseph Sebranek, Ph.D., distinguished professor of animal science and endowed chair in meat science at Iowa State Univ., Ames, Iowa. “However, the practical applications of many of the traditional non-meat ingredients have been developed and refined as a result of years, decades or even centuries of use, and have clearly evolved to play very critical roles in processed meats. These ingredients comprise the current toolbox that provides the fundamental means to produce unique and distinctive processed meat products of various types.

“Raw, partially cooked, fully cooked, ready-to-eat, fermented, dried, injected, marinated and dry-cured products all derive distinctive properties from use of non-meat ingredients,” Sebranek says. “Further, most of the non-meat ingredients in the current toolbox are used almost universally in processed meats despite the wide variety of products that are produced.”

This includes phosphates, which have long been used in prepared meats because of the multiple functions they provide. They were first approved by USDA to use in bacon and ham in 1971. By the 1980s, they were approved for use in various meat and poultry products.