Currently packers use sprays and hot water pasteurization techniques during slaughter and fabrication to reduce the number of potentially harmful bacteria on the surface of meat as it goes through the plant. However, these treatments have not traditionally been applied to beef trimmings that go into ground beef products. Not until now.
Several industry partners are researching the use of hot water pasteurization on trim before it is reaches the grinder. The hope is adding pasteurization at the end of the fabrication line will help prevent recontamination of the grind before it leaves the plant. The other concern was the effect this late wash has on the quality and taste of the hamburger.
Canadian Cattlemen’s Association director of technical services Mark Klassen has been leading the team testing this idea at the Food Processing Development Centre in Leduc. Phase one measured the impact of hot water processing on trim, the product’s shelf life, and consumer acceptability of the finished product.
“Our overall focus was to establish the ideal conditions for treatment of trim with hot water,” says Klassen. “Too much heat can affect the product’s appearance, whereas too little will not reduce any bacteria potentially present on the trim.”
During phase two they measured consumer perceptions of this technology, as well as the eating experience and response to visual and physical characteristics of the pasteurized product. Consumer focus groups and online consumer research was used to provide data for marketing such a product and flushing out any potential concerns.
Based on these findings consumers would support the concept of hot water pasteurization, provided the food safety benefits are explained.
“Consumers want high-quality beef products with an assured safety profile,” says Klassen. “Overall, results from our consumer evaluation of the cooked product suggest that the treatment did not significantly impact overall acceptability, appearance, colour, flavour, juiciness, or texture. Consumers also rated the appearance of the fresh uncooked patties and the results suggest that hot water treatment of trim also does not significantly impact the acceptability of the raw product.”
As a bonus the late-stage pasteurization may extend product shelf life and provide some cost savings if it reduces the amount of meat that is discarded when E. coli O157 is detected by food safety inspections.
The equipment required is relatively simple and affordable, making this method more accessible to smaller meat processors.
“Finding a more sustainable approach to food safety may also open up new market opportunities for Canada,” says Clinton Dobson, senior manager, research and policy for the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA). “There are a lot of markets with restrictions on certain decontamination processes, so this process could allow industry to meet those requirements and meet that demand.”
The partners involved in the project include Cargill Meat Solutions, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lacombe Research Station, Leduc Food Processing Development Centre, Stanfos Inc. and ALMA