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Strategies to improve meat quality and enhance shelf life

Troy Wistuba Published on 24 April 2013

It’s interesting to compare the results of the National Beef Quality Audits (NBQA), which are conducted every five years.

Results in 1991 showed external fat and seam fat were the top two factors that determined quality on a cut of beef.

In 2005, traceability topped the list. And the most recent audit from 2011 showed food safety and eating satisfaction were the top two factors.

As consumers become more interested in what they’re eating, their preferences and perceptions of quality make a more significant impact on what that “eating satisfaction” means.

Beef for sale

Based on surveys, 96 percent of cattle producers intentionally influence quality on their farms – and quality to them means producing a safe, wholesome beef supply.

Statistics show we are improving as an industry – since the first NBQA, the incidence of injection site lesions, for example, has decreased.

However, we have room for improvement. The 2007 National Market Cow and Bull Beef Quality Audit revealed a 15 percent rate of lesions for cull beef cattle.

Making efforts to decrease injection site lesions is a sure-fire way to increase meat quality, as tenderness – an indication of quality based on anyone’s tastes – is decreased up to 3 inches from a lesion. Efforts include:

  • Proper intramuscular injections
    • 16- to 20- needle gauge
    • 1-inch to 1½-inch-long needle
    • No more than 10 cc at an injection site
    • Too much drug in one area can cause muscle damage.
  • Proper subcutaneous injections
    • 16- to 18- needle gauge
    • ¾-inch to 1-inch-long needle; ¾-inch if tent technique is not used
    • No more than 10 cc at a single injection site
    • Separate injection sites by at least four inches.
  • Needle management
    • Replace bent or burred needles.
    • Remove a broken needle from the animal immediately – the fragment can migrate, making it impossible to find, and if an animal has a needle fragment, it cannot be marketed.
    • Use separate needles for filling syringes and injecting animals.
  • Syringe management
    • Separate and mark syringes for modified-live vaccines and bacterins vs. killed vaccines.
    • Bacterin left in a syringe that is later used for modified-live vaccine could results in the vaccine being destroyed.
    • Change needles after about 10 injections.
  • Good sanitation
    • Use boiling water to clean syringes used for modified-live vaccines.
    • Do not use disinfectants or soap on the inside portion of the syringe.
    • Clean the injection site.
    • Avoid injecting into damp or wet cattle or manure-covered areas.

Healthy animals produce higher-quality meat

Oklahoma State University researchers found that cattle that have three or more bouts of disease produce lower-quality meat based on marbling scores, color stability and overall decreased acceptance of the final beef product by consumers.

Iowa State University research showed that oxidative environments decrease the tenderization of beef steaks and that the antioxidant status of an animal influences the color and tenderness of beef injected with calcium chloride (used to improve customer acceptance of beef steak).

Beef producers use many tools to keep cattle healthy and in oxidative balance, vaccines and antimicrobials among them.

But poor nutrition and a deficiency in essential nutrients can compromise an animal’s ability to fight oxidative stress, which weakens defense mechanisms against disease.

This also leads to a diminished ability to respond to those disease prevention and treatment measures.

Therefore, nutrition also plays an important role in meat quality. Research has shown that feeding selenium in diets with deficiencies can boost defense systems and increase immunity.

In a Colorado study, cattle fed antioxidants had 25 percent lower incidence of liver abscesses. In another study, antioxidant-fed cattle had fewer and less frequent liver abscesses.

In an Ohio study, antioxidants not only lowered the incidence of abscesses, they also tended to increase marbling scores.

Antioxidants and shelf life

Antioxidants can also help with maintaining shelf life, which is critical to consumer satisfaction.

The longer the product can stay in the retail case and maintain acceptable quality, the better the chance consumers will purchase that product.

Supplementing with antioxidants has been shown to reduce rancidity and improve the color rating of ground beef because of its ability to improve the oxidative status of the animal.

Unstable dietary fat is a significant factor in increasing free-radical formation, and feedstuffs such as cottonseed, distillers grains, soybean products and fish meal contain high levels of unsaturated fatty acids and can contribute to oxidative stress.

Adding antioxidants to the diet stabilizes dietary fat and water-soluble vitamins, and binds up free radicals to help prevent cellular damage, leading to a more balanced oxidative state.

In a study with preconditioned and finishing steers, feeding antioxidants improved the oxidative status of the animal, as measured by higher blood levels of vitamins E and A.

In an Oklahoma trial, ground beef from antioxidant-supplemented steers had lower TBARS levels than steers fed the control diet, indicating lower oxidative stress levels.

Results also indicate that supplementing antioxidants in the finishing diets of steers inhibited lipid oxidation of ground beef on retail display.

In another Oklahoma study, feeding antioxidants both extended the shelf life of ground beef and improved its color rating.

In a similar Nebraska study, cattle fed antioxidants had a lower percentage of discoloration of strip loins during a seven-day simulated retail display situation.

As the NBQA and other studies show, eating satisfaction is a top priority when it comes to determining quality.

And although a beef producer’s perception of quality may be different than the average consumer’s (I love a good cube steak, but most people don’t know how to cook it properly to get a high-quality result), improving post-harvest meat quality and extending shelf life with management and nutrition are valuable strategies.  end mark

PHOTO

The longer the product can stay in the retail case and maintain acceptable quality, the better the chance consumers will purchase that product. Photo by staff.

Troy Wistuba

Beef Research Manager
Novus International, Inc.

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