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.
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Many label-reading consumers may not want to believe this, but phosphates are naturally derived ingredients. They are derived from mined phosphate rock, which is the element phosphorus combined with metal cations to form salts. In fact, the US is the third-largest producer, after China and Morocco.
Phosphorus is one of the building blocks of all life, with every living cell – plant and human – requiring it. Most fertilizers include phosphorus, even those certified organic. Some phosphates, albeit, not those typically used in meat and poultry, are included on the list of the 5 percent of nonorganic ingredients allowed in organic certified foods. And, Whole Foods Market does not specify any phosphate on its unacceptable ingredient registry.
Meat and poultry processors may want to think twice about ditching these multi-functional ingredients. Instead, to appease the label-reading consumer, focus on other product attributes, such as the use of local ingredients, animal treatment and farm-to-fork traceability, along with complete transparency.
“As the global population continues to rise, so does the demand for phosphates in food and beverage processing,” says Larry Esposito, business vice president, food and beverage, pharma, and nutrition and infrastructure, Xingfa USA Corp., Schaumburg, Illinois. “In fact, according to Global Market Insights, the global food phosphate market is expected to cross $2.4 billion by 2024, as forecast by strong growth indicators in dairy, bakery, beverage and meat processing.”
Xingfa is a global leader in specialty phosphates manufacturing, serving more than 50 countries for more than 30 years. The company owns and operates phosphate rock mines and derivative manufacturing plants; thus, it has complete control over the entire supply chain, from rock to ingredient. Its plants rely on hydropower stations, making the fully traceable ingredients also highly sustainable.
“Meat processors rely on an array of phosphates for different functions, most notably moisture retention,” Esposito says. “For example, tetrasodium pyrophosphate (TSPP) is commonly used as a water binder in meats. It also stabilizes pigment and prevents fat corruption.”
The different forms of phosphates differ significantly in two important properties: solubility in water and pH impact, according to Sebranek.
“Solubility can range from about 10 grams per 100 grams of water to over 100 grams per 100 grams of water,” he says. “Solubility can be an important consideration for specific applications, particularly for preparation of brines to be used for injected products.
“Limited solubility can also result in phosphate precipitation in processed meats after cooking and chilling, resulting in a sandy texture or even in hard, glass-like crystals,” Sebranek says. “The pH of different phosphates can range from about pH 5.0 to over pH 10.0. Most are about pH 7.0 or higher.”
Phosphates increase the water-binding capacity of proteins by raising their pH. Higher pH opens up 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.
“Sodium and potassium phosphates are common ingredients in many enhanced meat and poultry products,” says Barbara Heidolph, director of technology, technical service and development, Innophos Inc., Cranbury, New Jersey. “They modify the pH and directly interact with the muscle, specifically with the myofibrillar proteins, to dissociate the acto-mysosin complex cross-bridges, unraveling the protein structure. They also interact synergistically with the salt to create a net negative charge, which, by electrostatic repulsion, drives away the already dissociated actin and myosin. This effect creates more charged sites for marinade or flavor to bind. This action improves the succulence and savory characteristics of meat and poultry products.
“Neutral and acidic phosphates act as cure color enhancers,” Heidolph says. “The acidic salts used at a very low amount have a negative impact on the water-holding capacity of the muscle. A more alkaline phosphate generally raises the pH 0.2 to 0.3 pH units away from the meat’s isoelectric point, around 5.2. Increasing the meat pH away from the isoelectric point consequently increases the muscles’ water holding capacity.”