Extending shelf life and enhancing food safety are always high on the priority list of meat and poultry processors. Sodium lactate has broad antimicrobial applications and effectively inhibits most spoilage and pathogenic bacteria. Product formulation specialists utilize this beneficial ingredient to provide customers with the longest lasting product possible, while providing consmers with food safety assurance.

Dakota Provisions, Huron, S.D., uses this ingredient in its products for these very reasons, says Chet Coolbaugh, vice president of operations. The company processes a wide range of value-added raw and pre-cooked turkey, beef, pork and chicken products for foodservice and retail customers. Depending on the size of package, the plant is capable of producing about 1.2 million lbs. of finished ready-to-eat, sliced product weekly.

Supplier perspective

Most often, sodium lactate is used in combination with sodium diacetate, which aids with bacterial inhibition and shelf-life extension, says Shawnna Veasey, meat application technologist with Purac America Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill. "These blends are typically used in a range of processed meat and poultry products," she adds. "This includes products such as frankfurters, deli cuts and breakfast sausage."

Sodium lactate is primarily used to enhance food safety, Veasey says. "Cationic salts of lactic acid, specifically sodium lactate, have been shown to inhibit Listeria monocytogenes," she says. "L. monocytogenes, which causes Listeriosis, has a much higher mortality rate then Escherichia coli or Salmonella spp. Shelf life extension is an added bonus to processors who utilize sodium lactate as a food-safety measure."

Sodium lactate can also be used as a flavor enhancer to bring out certain herbs and/or spices in a formulation, Veasey says. "Also, the use of sodium lactate can reduce the sodium level in a product to a small degree," she adds. "Adding sodium lactate allows producers to remove a portion of their added salt. The amount of sodium in sodium lactate is less than that in salt, reducing the overall sodium content."

The recent push for lower-sodium products can not be accomplished solely with sodium lactate. "Instead, producers should consider switching to a potassium lactate, which has the same efficacy as the sodium version," Veasey says. "Secondly, sodium lactate inhibits the growth of microorganisms but does not kill them. Producers must maintain an ongoing sanitation regime to limit the presence of pathogenic bacteria in the plant environment."

Purac’s two newest sodium lactate blends include Purasal Opti.Form SD4 Ultra and Purasal Opti.Form Powder. Opti.Form SD4 Ultra utilizes an extra technological step in production to improve the flavor of the end product. Opti.Form Powder is a dry blend of sodium lactate and sodium diacetate. It is primarily used for products that cannot afford a large addition of water.

Coolbaugh expects this ingredient to be used more by Dakota Provisions as volume and SKU of products increase.

With more Baby-Boomers entering retirement age, Purac’s Veasey believes there will be a greater push toward lower-sodium products. "I believe the use of lactate will remain constant, but that there will be a shift from sodium to potassium lactates," she adds. "For now, lactates are one of the best solutions for controlling L. monocytogenes in RTE meat products."

It is important to note that vast improvements have been made to clean up the flavor of lactates in recent years, she continues. "If you haven’t tried some of the new lactates on the market, they are worth giving a second look."