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Acetate solutions: Unlocking successful meat preservation

Source:Kerry     Date:2022-04-13
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Business Development Manager, Food Protection & Preservation, Meat

Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa (APMEA)

KERRY’s 2021 Sustainability Research shows that in APMEA, 52% of consumers are concerned about food waste in meat. When it comes to meat preservation however, the primary focus has been on delaying spoilage by inhibiting the growth of microorganisms.


Due to their high moisture content and near-neutral pH, meat products are the perfect environment for microbial growth. Meat preservation and safety are important as contaminated meat carries the risk of health threats like Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli, pathogenic bacteria that can flourish in unprotected meats and result in life threatening medical conditions, expensive recalls, and waste.


As such, shelf life is high on the agenda of industrial meat processors. Fortunately, the risk can be eliminated with the right attention paid to preservation techniques and products.


Trained microbiologists, challenge study data and application studies that maintain the quality, sensory and appeal characteristics of products are essential in formulating solutions for meat food safety. All this takes time and expertise.

Sausage and Veggies in a Skillet - Copy.jpg

For meat processing and preservation, acetates offer many competitive advantages over lactates: lower cost in use; low or zero sodium contribution; excellent antimicrobial properties against pathogens; no unwanted taste impacts; and reliability of supply. (Photo courtesy of Kerry)

Solutions based on the salts of organic acids, e.g., lactic or acetic acid, are time-tested solutions. Out of these, lactates—based on lactic acid—lead the marketplace today. Lactates have a strong market share following their rise decades ago as a preferred solution for stemming microbial growth in meat.


Lactic acid has a strong history in carcass decontamination used in hot water solutions. Besides protecting meat, sodium lactate adds a light, tasty, now familiar salty flavour, and the process works well. The downside is that these applications are sodium-based and thereby raise the volume of sodium in products that use them. This has made sodium lactates a key target of the salt-reduction movement.


The overconsumption of salt is targeted by food regulators globally, beginning with the World Health Organization (WHO), which recommends salt intake be limited to 5g per day. However, the global average daily salt intake is estimated to be double that, with countries like Thailand (13g), Japan (12g), Vietnam (12g), and the Philippines (11g) ranking among the highest in salt consumption.


In response, some manufacturers have developed lactate-based preservatives that replace sodium with potassium. This is a workable solution in some cases, but with one major issue: In dosages over 1%, potassium-based lactates deliver an “off” (sometimes described as “metallic”) taste. By contrast, acetates are highly effective at lower doses, so that less acetate-based product is needed to provide protection. Accordingly, the issue of metallic taste from potassium acetates becomes moot.


With all this in mind, acetate-based meat preservatives—derived from acetic acid—are an option now receiving serious consideration. Acetates offer several important competitive advantages over lactates: lower cost in use; low or zero sodium contribution; excellent antimicrobial properties against pathogens; no unwanted taste impacts; and reliability of supply. The latter is especially noteworthy because it’s in stark contrast to the supply-chain disruptions and rising price volatility lactic acid seems destined to face in the future.


The cost-in-use (CIU) equation is always an extremely important consideration for ingredient and processing aid suppliers. But how can meat be preserved more cost-effectively?


Acetates are a remarkable five to seven times more efficient at controlling bacterial threats than lactates at the same pH level. This is due to a higher undissociated acid content, and results in several key benefits: less preservation product needed; competitive cost; efficacy at low dosages; and a confirmed ability to meet vital food safety standards. Buffer systems of acetic acid and its salt can stabilise the pH and inhibit the activity of spoilage bacteria.


Achieving equal protection using lactates requires a much larger dose, and that’s where many of the issues start.


Though meat products often use formulation components that contain sodium, producers can target these components individually to reduce the cumulative sodium level in the end product. Substituting sodium lactate—dosed up to 4% content—with a low- or no-sodium alternative is an excellent start to substantially reducing the overall sodium load. This has a rising number of food companies eager to comply with the current WHO guidance, and many are looking ahead to potential future regional regulatory actions.


But reducing sodium can create challenges when formulating for shelf life and the race has begun to uncover solutions that will replace sodium’s role in the protection, preservation and flavour of meat products without compromising a product’s lifespan. Still, managing application developments and challenge tests for improving preservatives takes time, which means it is important for meat processors to quickly start on the process, and acetates can play a big part in that direction.   

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