Food for Thought

Functional ingredients are essential for the manufacture of processed meat and poultry products.  They allow for their existence, they provide quality and consistency, and they offer food safety benefits not otherwise possible.

From the inception of processed meat and poultry products and up until several decades ago, these products were made with relatively high quality (and by today’s standards…very expensive) raw materials, a short list of ingredients (namely salt, cure, and spices), and during a time when a lesser need to address food safety (compared to today) existed.  As the meat and poultry industry has since evolved, the availability, opportunity, and in some cases need to incorporate functional ingredients to address raw material/finished products costs, manufacturing/finished product performance (e.g. machinability, slicing, sensory properties, etc.), food safety, and consumer demands/expectations has created the need for increased functional ingredient utilization.   Further, in recent years, a new wave of consumer interests and demands have driven a new approach to processed meat manufacturing…natural, organic, and clean label.

In the past few decades, a large array of functional ingredients has been created, developed, investigated, and demonstrated to offer value (as defined by the user following a variety of metrics) and/or allow product quality, performances, and safety to be improved beyond previous capabilities.  Often limited by cost, labeling or “fit”, many functional ingredients become discounted or dismissed rather quickly.  However, a short pause or reconsideration of some of these ingredients could offer opportunity which perhaps didn’t exist before.

To properly understand and truly evaluate functional ingredients, science should always serve as the common denominator.  Science and data will tell us the answers and provide us with guidance while putting into practice and production will confirm the feasibility and viability in real-world conditions.

If we pause to consider and understand the basis of processed meat and poultry products, we are really talking about conducting a big science experiment where biological materials (aka. meat, fat, water, minerals) with different physiochemical properties (acidity, protein concentration and quality, fat concentration and quality, etc.) are manipulated/impacted by a variety of ingredients, processes, and to achieve specific end-goals in an effort to create a safe and desirable product for consumers.

Each ingredient used provides a specific primary function…its core purpose.  Some ingredients are multifunctional (typically with reduced singular function) while others require synergism with other ingredients for realization of their functional capability.  Yet…all have the same things in common…a scientific-driven reaction and response with a subsequent impact.  The impact could be a solublization of extractile protein phenomena, a change (or buffering) of pH, or some other physiochemical response important for these products.  Understanding what that specific function is and how this relates to the entire system is paramount to holistically determine an ingredients true purpose, impact, and processed meat and poultry product worth.

Jeff Sindelar, Ph.D.
Associate Professor & Extension Meat Specialist
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Meat Science & Muscle Biology Laboratory
1805 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53590
[email protected]