Identification of influence factors on the quality and shelf life of fresh meat throughout the supply chain
Lucas Correa Dresch 1
1 Institute of Animal Sciences, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany
Due to the industrialization and globalization of food production, food supply chains became increasingly complex, which led to a multitude of steps that products must pass during production, processing and distribution. At the same time, the quality standards and requirements for shelf life were raised in order to allow for the most efficient delivery and exploitation of the sales period of fresh products, especially for meat. During the supply, meat is exposed to several environments from farm to fork which might affect the quality and shelf life of the good. This work aims at the identification of the most important influence factors based on a literature review. First, the quality connotation of meat is defined and different aspects of meat quality are analyzed. Second, freshness and the spoilage process of fresh meat are characterized. Then, four main categories of factors influencing quality and shelf life of meatare identified, namely animal-specific, product-specific, process-specific and environmental factors. The impact of these factors is discussed by means of examples as well as graphs based on the literature review. The results are summed up in the conclusion leading to an outlook which points to future research prospects and the actual lack of investigations.
The supply chain of fresh food is comprised of a complex set of processes that ensure quality and safety of the products, and at the same time maintain a sustainable, environmentally friendly production
As the food market outgrew local markets, the food industry shifted from single protagonists to supply chains; organizations, practitioners, consultants, and academics recognized that only enhancing performance throughout in-house practices within their industry is not sufficient
Another important requirement for the meat industry is an environmentally friendly and sustainable production
This research intends to analyze and clarify the parameters that influence quality and shelf life of fresh meat products throughout the supply chain. First, meat quality will be defined and the characteristics and influences on the spoilage process of meat are elucidated. Next, it will present and define important parameters that should be considered when managing quality and safety of meat through the supply chain, from farm to fork, while elucidating at the same time their influence on production, marketability, and overall food waste.
Quality parameters and the spoilage process of fresh meat
A high quality of fresh food is crucial for the subsequent processing, stability, and salability of the products. With an increasing complexity of production and supply chains, the persistence of food quality and suitability for storage is an important requirement for every actor in the chain. As quality is one major driver for the purchase decision, there is an increasing sensitivity in the food production industry that competing on price alone is not sufficient to satisfy the refining consumer demands
The quality of food is defined as
"the sum of value-determining properties of food, which define the degree of utilization for the prescribed purpose"
Compared to other fresh products, meat is a product that is characterized by a particular complexity. The term meat quality comprises a set of different inherent characteristics. Meat quality is defined by the compositional quality, the functional quality, and the palatability
Since fresh meat is no stable product but undergoes different biological, physicochemical and microbial activities, meat quality is a dynamic state which is continuously moving to reduced levels
"spoilage of food involves any change which renders food unacceptable for human consumption and may result from a variety of causes"
Spoilage can have several causes, such as microbial growth and metabolism, insect harm, physical damage, the activity of intrinsic enzymes as well as chemical processes. For fresh meat, most quality changes during spoilage are initiated by three main mechanisms
Fresh meat is distinguished by a high water content, a large amount of nutrients, and an optimal pH-value for the growth of microorganisms. The nutritional value may vary between different meat types, but is generally constituted by the main component water (70%), followed by protein (20%), lipids (<10%) and ash (1%)
The shelf life of meat or meat products is described as the time of storage until the product is spoiled. The point of spoilage is defined as
"a certain maximum acceptable bacterial level, or an unacceptable off-odor/off-flavor or appearance. The shelf-life depends on the numbers and types of microorganisms, mainly bacteria, initially present and their subsequent growth"
During slaughter and processing, fresh meat is contaminated with microorganisms emerging from animal microbiota as well as microorganisms of human or environmental origin. The bacteria are transferred to the product via contaminated machines, surfaces and the aerosols in the slaughterhouse
By knowing a few physical and chemical properties of the food, the prediction of the SSO and their growth is possible
Influence factors on meat quality and shelf life
The factors influencing meat quality and shelf life can be subdivided into four major categories. These factors comprise the complete value-added chain, from the animal production to consumption. Each of the four categories can be assigned to one essential element in the production or storage process, including also the properties of the product itself. The influence factors on meat quality and shelf life are subdivided into the animal-specific factors, product-specific factors, process-specific factors and environmental factors (figure 1).
The animal-specific factors focus on the first steps in the meat production. Even though the effects of genetic selection and adjusted diets are well-investigated, a comprehensive view on meat quality and shelf life from farm to fork is often not considered. The choice of breed has a crucial impact on the meat composition, the fat and protein content, and, as a result, the meat quality, as well as nutritional value
Next to pre-slaughter stress, the diet has a noticeable impact on the color and color stability of meat
The addition of essential amino acids in broiler diet, such as methionine or lysine, enhances performance parameters, meat yield and final body weight. Furthermore, the diet also regulates the final pH, drip loss and color of poultry meat
The adjustment of the diet is often accompanied by a changed growth velocity and performance of the animals, which is also considered during the development of alternative husbandry systems. Organic production systems with outdoor access, enhanced roaming, adjusted nutrition and the targeted choice of slow growing races result in significant differences in certain meat quality parameters, compared to the conventional industrial meat production
The product-specific factors comprise all intrinsic properties which are typical for fresh meat. The meat composition and the nutritional value influence the storage stability through the availability of nutrients and key substrates, such as glucose
The pH-value is one further product-specific factor with major importance for the growth rate of microorganisms
The process-specific factors include influence factors within the slaughter and processing facilities. The education of employees, industrial hygiene, equipment, and the cleaning routines significantly affect the initial contamination of the product
For the length of shelf life, the environmental factors are of major importance. They are determined by a set of different drivers referring mostly to the storage conditions of the meat. Intensive research efforts focused on the impact of environmental factors on fresh meat in order to control the cold chain and prolong the shelf life with advanced packaging technologies. The temperature is supposed to have the highest influence on the stability of meat products (figure 2.a). Due to its ability to accelerate microbial growth and metabolism as well as biochemical and physical processes, temperature has a crucial impact on the quality, safety and shelf life of meat
For fresh poultry stored at 4°C, the shelf life can be prolonged from 100h (aerob) to 212h by using a 70% O2-packaging
As the meat market reached the saturation point in western countries, the requirements from consumers regarding high quality and sustainable products increased
Additionally, post-production quality control alone is not sufficient for a food company to stand out on the market as the quality control of fresh meat products requires the facilitation of real-time monitoring processes and intensive communication of relevant information between members of the supply chain
Thus, quality and safety schemes for meat products can be adjusted accordingly for a more effective control throughout the entire chain.
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