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Meat - Next Generation Project - Meat Processing Technologies

Project Leader

Dr David Hopkins
NSW Department of Industry & Investment
Tel: 02 6349 9722
Email -

This project has been completed.

About the Project

To contribute to the development and validation of technologies that will allow the measurement and improvement of meat quality.

Business Case

A significant investment is being made on developing new technologies to achieve a ‘tender in 24 hours' product. Analysis by MLA indicates that $150 Million could be saved across the meat industry by shortening the aging process and reducing chilling costs. Linked to this is the ability to measure meat quality more accurately to aid processing and allow cost-effective intervention to improve meat quality. A benefit cost analysis on a tool to filter out 10% of the low eating quality carcases suggested that the return if 2 export plants and 1 domestic plant adopted the technology would be $4M p.a. (North et al. 2008). This return would be doubled if product could be shifted into higher value markets. Clearly there are significant benefits if an effective tool such as Raman spectroscopy can be developed as an on-line device. A preliminary analysis of the benefit of Boa technology (now called SmartShape or SmartStretch™) for the Australian meat industry showed that if a cut such as the topside could be improved by pre-rigor shaping the benefit would be $1.13/kg (Greenleaf 2008). If this same benefit was transferred to hot boned hind legs – for a hot boning plant processing 1000 sheep per day this represents a lift in profit of $23,000 per week. Colour is an important intrinsic quality cue for consumers of red meat. For lamb meat that is packed in Styrofoam trays with a polyvinyl chloride over wrap, the surface colour will change from red to brown in 1–7 days, depending on conditions (Moore & Young 1991). Retailers often discount meat after 2 days of display to avoid detection of this colour change by consumers. Coles Pty Ltd has previously estimated that they lose about $2 million per year due to discounting and removal of meat from the shelves due to discolouration. Furthermore, they have had to change product lines due to problems with discolouration in the topside. Rather than slicing the topside and selling it as steaks, they switched to selling it as a roast, as a lower return per kg. Addressing these issues is very important.

The adoption from this project will be indicated by the uptake of the various technologies that are being studied and also the commercialisation of the technologies and the project has strong links with the processing sector.


The following technologies will be validated for their capability to enable measurement and improvement of meat quality. There is significant potential for technology such as NMR and NIR to play an integral role in online measurement of meat quality attributes in Australian abattoirs. A commercially relevant application of NMR could be in the online measurement of marbling/intramuscular fat content and the water holding capacity of meat. Intramuscular fat and the water holding capacity are important determinants of meat eating quality. Previous work NMR with MLA funding and a collaborative research approach between Murdoch University, AgResearch, NZ and Magritek Limited, a science and technology company based at the University of Wellington indicated significant promise in the ability of an NMR instrument for the prediction of tenderness. However Magritek Limited failed to produce a more robust version of the NMR instrument and thus work on the technology has stalled. Given this an alternative program focusing on Raman spectroscopy (for predicting tenderness) was commenced in 09/10. Raman is not affected by water content, is non-destructive and flexible. Results from pork and beef suggest it has potential for predicting tenderness, but no work on sheep meat had been undertaken. I&I NSW sent samples (10/11) from the IN Flock (2009 drop) for assessing the potential of Raman in collaboration with researchers at the University of Bayreuth, Germany.

These researchers have developed a hand held Raman device (the only one in the world) and the preliminarily analysis indicates that the probe can explain a significant amount of the variation in shear force an objective measure of tenderness. These results need validation and the intention is to design a specific experiment to undertake this validation after a project planning meeting between the Australian and German researchers in Germany. At this stage the German team has given exclusive rights to the Australian team for any direct application of the technology to the Australian sheep meat processing industry. To maximise investment it will be intended to target INF lambs again and thus establish whether Raman has potential for also predicting IMF. NIR technology also has potential for on-line measurement of traits like IMF and negotiations were under taken by the project leader with MLA staff (client innovation and services; CIS division) to carry out a validation of an NIR probe using lambs from the 2010 IN drop. This project would have included testing lambs for which sensory data is to be collected. Unfortunately MLA decided in the end not to fund the work.

Chilling conditions that minimise weight loss, without negatively impacting on tenderness present a significant saving to industry. Very fast chilling (VFC) has been proposed as a method to optimise processing efficiency by reducing processing time and chilling inventories and some of the biochemical changes in muscle have been studied in this project. No further work on VFC however will be undertaken through this project.

Development work under way on a machine funded by MLA (known originally as the Boa) to stretch meat has demonstrated scope for integration with the removal of the FQ pre-rigor so as to prevent shortening and potentially reduce toughness. The stretching changes the shape of the FQ and potentially predispose the FQ to portion cutting. Such an approach will only be applicable to lean lambs to avoid excessive seam fat and the scope for this approach has been examined in this project. Progress to date has led to significant modifications being made to the BOA (now called SmartShape or SmartStretch™) so more control can be exercised over the degree of stretch and these modifications have been tested in the 09/10 year with funding by MLA. The Sheep CRC component to date has demonstrated that portions of boneless FQ’s can be produced and significant improvements in the tenderness of hot boned sheep meat cuts can be achieved. Work was undertaken in collaboration with a large processor and a trial batch of product for the “hot pot” market has been prepared in 09/10. Given the commercialisation of the technology by MLA no further work is planned.

The measurements of discolouration in the INF flock are on an over-wrapped loin product. The meat is displayed for three days and the rate of discolouration is calculated using surface measurements of the loin. Preliminary data from the 2007 and 2008 drop IN progeny have shown that heritability of discolouration in the loin is moderate (about 0.40). The degree of variability in retail colour is quite high in the INF flock and additional information on the muscles, such as anti-oxidant status and fatty acids, would assist in determining the causes of the variation.

Coles Pty Ltd sell significant quantities of their lamb meat in a modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) compared to over-wrap packaging. They are very interested to know whether the measurements being taken on loin from INF progeny for the retail colour of over-wrapped product can be related to retail colour under MAP and whether these changes occur across the carcase in a consistent manner in cuts like the topside from the hind leg. MAP is known to retard bacterial growth and extend the shelf-life of the meat, provided the right gas mixture is used. Usually for meat, 20-30% O2 and 70-80% CO2 is used.

During (09/10) the first phase of this work was undertaken by sampling loins and topsides from 2009 drop IN progeny produced at Rutherglen. During 10/11 the work has continued with sampling undertaken on 2010 drop IN progeny produced at Hamilton. There will be no new experimental work undertaken in 11/12, but the measurement of traits will run into 11/12. This will include measurement and interaction of fatty acids and Vitamin E, with colour stability. Indeed the results from this project will help to elucidate some of the findings from the phenotyping project (3.1) where it is not possible to more thoroughly examine the interactions between factors. The major activity in 11/12 will be reporting of the results and communicating the commercial importance of these results to Coles Pty Ltd. This will require the input of Dr Robyn Warner formerly employed by DPI Vic, but now working for CSIRO as she has been overseeing this experimental work. DPI Vic and CSIRO will need to develop a plan for the work to be completed and the results disseminated. The personnel engaged in this project will continue to provide a technical resource to assist the adoption process of technologies that are confirmed to be of value and the evidence of this was the invitation during 10/11 for staff working on the project to speak at a number of seminars organised for industry by MINTRAC including their National Conference. This project continues to dialogue with the division of CIS within Meat and Livestock Australia – this division manages research for the processing sector. Accordingly outcomes from CRC research will be incorporated into adoption packages with MLA as appropriate. A key component is to also expose the CRC supply chain partners to this research and the work on MAP systems is a prime example of this.

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