Phosphates can reduce oxidation, chelate metals, preserve color and prevent rancidity of fat. 

Powerhouse approved additives

As stated, lactates and phosphates are both ingredient families recognized as GRAS. They have been embraced by meat and poultry processors for years, and will continue to be used for their powerful functional properties that enable retailers to sell affordable, quality and safe products.

Lactates are all about providing food safety. Lactate is the salt form of lactic acid, a well-recognized powerful antimicrobial. Lactates are often used in conjunction with other salt forms of organic acids to provide the most power in keeping pathogenic microorganisms in check.

The level of effectiveness of organic acids is determined by the amount of undissociated acid that penetrates the bacteria cell wall and disrupts its physiology. For ready-to-eat meat and poultry, lactates and diacetates have historically been considered the industry standard. Some suppliers offer blends of organic acid salts, including acetate, diacetate, lactate and propionate to create the most effective antimicrobial system for a particular application.

Lactates, in particular sodium lactate, are known to also enhance the flavor of some meat products. Traditionally sodium lactate has been used, but as the name suggests, the ingredient contributes sodium to the formulation. Potassium lactate is an option when trying to keep sodium content under control.

Sodium and potassium lactate may be used, singly or in combination, in all fully cooked meat and poultry products at up to 4.8 percent of the total formulation to inhibit the growth of several pathogenic bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes. If used at a level of 2 percent or less, lactates are then considered simply a flavor enhancer.

The antimicrobial effects of lactate and diacetate may also retard the growth of spoilage microorganisms, thus they may have a positive impact on product shelf life. This is helpful when trying to maintain the freshness of uncooked marinated meat products, specifically chicken breasts and pork loins, at the retail level.

Phosphates are used in meat and poultry products for numerous reasons, most notably to raise the pH of the protein, which in turn increases its water-holding capacity. Raising the pH opens up the fibrous proteins, allowing moisture migration, which the proteins grab onto. This binding of water increases yields. The proteins also are better able to retain marinade and cook juices, thereby reducing purge and assuring that meat is succulent once cooked.

Phosphates can also reduce oxidation, chelate metals, preserve color, lend freeze/thaw stability, maintain flavor and prevent rancidity of fat along with the development of warmed-over-flavor when a product is reheated. Some phosphates excel at extracting proteins to bind muscle pieces, providing for stable emulsions in comminuted meats.

Food-grade phosphates are derived from phosphoric acid and can assume many forms. Most are linear molecules and contain a single phosphate (ortho), two phosphates (pyro) or three or more phosphates (poly). There are also metaphosphates, which are composed of several phosphates in a ring-shape structure. Most phosphates are alkaline and have a high pH; however, there are some phosphates referred to as acid phosphates, and they have 
a neutral to slightly acidic pH.

 USDA meat poultry
USDA limits the amount of phosphate that can be used in meat and poultry to 8 ozs. per 100 lbs of product. However, half that amount typically suffices. 

There are many varied phosphates, each with their own claims to fame. Some are very effective at increasing pH, while others are better at preserving color. Processors often use blends of phosphates designed for specific applications to allow for the best color formation with simultaneous increase in pH, which also increases yield and succulence.

Not all phosphates will work in all meat systems. The type and concentration of phosphates in a blend will influence price.

Most phosphates are sodium based; thus, if reducing sodium content is a concern, potassium phosphates are available. However, potassium often contributes bitter notes that can impact taste.

Always looking out for the consumer, the USDA limits the amount of phosphate that can be used in meat and poultry to 8 ozs. per 100 lbs. of product. However, half that amount typically suffices.

Phosphates are permitted in whole muscle bone-in and boneless products including roasts, steaks, hams, chops, tenderloins, poultry breasts, thighs and wings, whole chicken and turkey, muscle strips, and more. The application of phosphates for such whole muscle products is by injection, vacuum or static marination. For ground and comminuted systems such as patties, loaves, coarse ground sausages, hot dogs, bologna and meatballs, phosphates are applied in a dry or in solution form. Some phosphates are difficult to dissolve into a solution, with cold or hard water, and the presence of excess salt increases the challenge.

Both lactates and phosphates are safe and suitable multifunctional processing ingredients. Their value to the meat and poultry industry is as great as it is to consumers, who get to enjoy the final cooked product.

“Because the product properties that result from these meat processing ‘tools’ are likely to be altered if these ingredients are reduced or eliminated, processors need to consider any suggested alternatives very carefully, and proceed with caution before changing the way the basic meat processing tools are used,” wrote Dr. Joseph Sebranek, professor at Iowa State Univ., Ames, Iowa, in proceedings from the 2015 American Meat Science Association conference. “Further, because these are truly multifunctional ingredients that have more than one role in meats, changes in how they are used can introduce unexpected changes in the products, and, consequently, the use of multiple alternatives may need to be considered.”

There’s something to be said for tried and true. That’s what you get with lactates and phosphates.