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Centralized Packaging of Retail Meat Cuts: A Review

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Centralized packaging of retail meat cuts is growing more popular because of its economies and potential to maintain quality, enhance safety, and extend the shelf life of fresh meat. Requirements for optimizing shelf life of centrally prepared retail cuts for periods up to 15 weeks are slightly different from those needed to extend the shelf life of fresh, chilled meat. Chilled meat primarily deteriorate at the cut or uncut muscle surface. In long-term storage, primal cuts are placed in an atmosphere saturated with carbon dioxide and containing very low residual oxygen. These cuts are held at −1.5 ± 0.5°C. When the meat is removed, it is fabricated into retail or food service cuts. New fresh surfaces are created in the process, revitalizing the meat's appearance. After being prepared for retail display, the meat normally has four more days of shelf life. Depending on the meat species, shelf life is usually limited by development of undesirable organoleptic changes, usually defects in color, which are independent of microbial presence. The microbes consist of a lactic acid bacterial population that maximizes under storage conditions at about 108 CFU/cm2 well before shelf life ends. Circumstances are different with centralized distribution of retail-ready fresh meat. The wholesale storage period following initial packaging of the retail cuts is about 20 to 30 days. Prepared products must withstand retail display for up to 2 days without further manipulation of package contents. Retail packages are simply moved from their storage container (usually a unit or overwrap containing a modified atmosphere) to retail display, where desirable meat color develops upon exposure to air. Three gas atmospheres have some potential to satisfy storage needs for centralized distribution of retail-ready packages: 100% CO2, 100% N2, or 70% N2 + 30% CO2. Shelf life is limited by undesirable changes in surfaces exposed at initial packaging, caused by growth of psychrotrophic bacteria. If 100% CO2 is used, these are all lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Therefore, initial bacterial numbers on the meat and storage temperature become critical to success. The most attractive storage option is 100% CO2 used at −1.5 ± 0.5°C. This review presents the reason for that recommendation, along with basic concepts of meat chemistry, a discussion of modified atmosphere packaging, meat microbiology, and current results with simulated centralized packaging of retail-ready meats.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biosystems Engineering, 438 Engineering Building, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada R3T 5V6 2: Department of Food Science, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada R3T 2N2

Publication date: 1999-04-01

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