AMSA Pork 101 pig holding pen
Attendees had the chance to evaluate live pigs as part of the Pork 101 experience.
STILLWATER, Okla. – Attendees had the chance to evaluate live pigs as part of the Pork 101 experience, held in September at Oklahoma State Univ.

From Sept. 13-15, Oklahoma State Univ., the American Meat Science Association (AMSA), Pork Checkoff, Elanco and Merck Animal Health all came together to offer industry professionals a hands-on education about the pork-processing industry. The September installment of Pork 101 was held at the Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center (FAPC) on the Oklahoma State Univ. (OSU) campus and featured an in-depth look at all aspects of pork production and processing, from farm to fork.

“Pork 101 provides a unique opportunity for individuals from all segments of the industry, from farm to fork, to learn more about the step by step procedures of pork slaughter, fabrication and processing, as well as understand in more detail the science of pork quality and factors that impact pork quality before and after slaughter,” says Gretchen Mafi, Ph.D., Ralph and Leila Boulware endowed chair and professor of meat science at OSU.

Professionals from many different areas of the pork industry attended this year’s event. Among the attendees, sales reps were well represented, but also accountants, media, consultants and customer service representatives all gained knowledge from the Pork 101 coursework and lectures.

“We were happy with the attendance and participation,” Mafi added. “Oklahoma State hasn’t hosted the event for several years and we were pleased to have 33 attendees.”

Meeting the pigs

On the first day, attendees began their learning with a lecture on pork quality from Mafi on topics that covered the attributes of cuts used to determine pork quality, such as color, marbling and tenderness among others, and the metrics and tools used to measure those attributes.

According to Mafi, responsibility for quality, palatable pork falls equally on both producers and packers. The choices producers make relative to feed and feeding, genetic selection and handling all affect the overall quality of the product before it gets to the packer. The packer must then make good pre- and post-slaughter decisions. The most important variables that decide the quality of pork are: genetics; nutrition of the animal; how the pigs are handled on the farm, in transport and during pre-slaughter; stunning and carcass handling. Ideal pork is reddish-pink in color with a pH of 5.6 to 6.2 and marbling equivalent of 2.5 to 4 percent intramuscular fat.

A presentation on pork carcass lean value pricing from Rodney Holcomb, Ph.D., Browning Endowed Chair, Oklahoma State Univ., and a review of the Oklahoma pork industry by Scott Carter, swine nutritionist for the Oklahoma Pork Council followed.

After a live hog evaluation presentation including the opportunity to look at live animals, participants had the chance to evaluate and choose a pig from video after splitting into groups. The groups used their newfound knowledge provided from Pork 101 to look at the shapes and weights of pigs and chose what they thought would give them the best value.

A pre-harvest hog handling presentation by OSU meat science faculty member, Justin Crosswhite, stressed the importance of humane handling. Carcass bruising and transport losses due to death are serious consequences caused by poor pre-harvest handling.

An orientation on safety in the meat laboratory concluded the first day.

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AMSA Pork 101 hanging bacon
Pork bellies served as a tool for participants to learn about injection, as well as providing bacon taste testing.

Slaughter and makin’ bacon

Day 2 presented attendees the chance to get a hands-on feel for the initial fabrication of pork products and what fabricators actually do on the line to turn carcasses into saleable meat products. This portion of the coursework gives participants a better understanding of what goes into production than any lecture or literature.

“Attendees always comment to us about how valuable the hands-on sessions are to them,” Dr. Mafi says. “I’m still amazed at the synergy which occurs when a participant can stand next to an industry counterpart, with their hands on some product and talking about how to improve their respective facets of the industry. It is a really great venue for discussion and learning.”

The learning began with the slaughter of a pig in the FAPC facility. Participants witnessed first-hand the pig coming through the chute, being stunned and bled, de-haired and eviscerated. A resident USDA inspector checked the organs after evisceration and approved the carcass for use. Once the carcass was split, meat science graduate students began monitoring pH to ensure quality. From there, attendees prepared and dressed for fabrication.

An experienced FAPC staff member joined each group for fabrication. They amazed attendees with their dexterity and knowledge of the carcasses as they sawed and cut with precision. Once participants started hacking into the carcasses, the expertise of the staff became glaringly clear. The staff understood and was supportive, assuring those not used to the processes that this was a learning experience and guided them through.

One side was bone-in and the other boneless. The ham and tenderloin were removed, shoulder split, ribs separated from the belly, and everything was weighed including the bone, fat and trim.

Moderators of the event and staff guided the groups in assessments of their carcasses during fabrication and pointed out ways in which the meat was superior or inferior and ways fabricators will maintain and enhance quality throughout the fabrication process.

AMSA Pork 101 grading tubs of ground pork meat
Batches of trim were ground and mixed as part of the hands-on session of sausage production.

Meating time

The next hands-on session consisted of sausage production. Two batches of trim were ground and mixed with three different spice combinations. One of the batches was then ground smaller for comparison. Participants then balled and pattied up the fresh meat for cooking. Once ready to cook, sausage went through one of the FAPC ovens while the Pork 101 attendees, meat science graduate students and faculty, and FAPC staff pulled them hot off the pan to taste and discuss.

Anyone in the meat industry will benefit from the discussions, demonstrations and participation in the enhancements and curing portions of the Pork 101 course. Understanding the ingredients involved and the vehicles used to incorporate those ingredients into the pork products was eye opening for most of the participants. Especially interesting was the opportunity to taste and assess flavor and texture qualities after taking part in the enhancement process.

After a quick, classroom discussion on basic ingredients for injection, it was back to the lab for two types of injection. Pork bellies for bacon were machine injected and hams were injected by hand, showing the difference in speed and precision between the two methods. While “uncured” and “no preservatives” are consumer buzzwords, injecting fresh meats with curing agents not only increases shelf life, but also gives products more flavor and a more attractive color.

Staff and graduate students cooked hams and bacon at different percentages of enhancement, as well as retail-purchased loin products to demonstrate differences in taste and to allow each to be assigned a score. Enhanced and cured selections drew more positive response than those without.

Final grade

Pork 101 came full circle before the final lunch on the last day. The groups were given a fabrication and pricing summary on the value of the pigs they’d chosen the first day. The summary provided detailed information on every pig so comparisons could be drawn. Live weight, carcass weight, dress percentage, muscle score, USDA grade, lean percentage, loin color score, loin marbling score and 10th rib measurements were all included.

Pork 101 is a wellspring of information covering as much of the industry as possible. The knowledge provided by faculty and staff gives participants more than they can handle in two and a half days and just scratches the surface of everything these experts have to offer, but the experts get something from participation as well. And that means the industry as a whole benefits.

“Working with the diverse group of attendees of Pork 101 hosted at Oklahoma State Univ. helps me understand the differences in knowledge level throughout the entire pork industry,” Mafi says. “As an instructor, it is beneficial to work with so many people with different backgrounds and in various segments of the industry to try to meet the needs and provide learning to improve the industry.”