When ensuring the safety of beef, why not try a little tenderness?
Both are promised by Meat Processing Services Corporation of St. Paul, a company pioneering a beef process called rinse and chill. Recent trials in AURI’s Marshall meat lab and at the University of Minnesota back up processors’ and chefs’ claims of improved tenderness, appearance and safety for beef treated with the patented technology.
Known also by the less appealing term “vascular flushing,” the process cleans beef carcasses with a water-based solution to lower pH in the muscle tissue. AURI tests have shown the technology also reduces bacterial contamination and cholesterol while extending the meat’s shelf life, says AURI meat scientist Darrell Bartholomew.
Rinse and chill is already in place at G&C Packing, a large packing plant in Colorado Springs, Colo.; Booker Packing in Booker, Texas; and the M.C. Herd packing plant in Geelong, Australia. Major packing plants in Minnesota and California are currently considering the technology for their lines.
“We’ve passed through commercial trials successfully and we’ve made a favorable impression on USDA,” says Warner Ide, MPSC’s vice president and COO. “There’s less blood contamination throughout the plant as a result of rinse and chill. The tissues are cleaner, making pathology easier to see. There will be new science and new data coming out that will add to that excitement and enthusiasm.”
Give ‘em the chilled shoulder
Much of that enthusiasm comes from chefs in Green Mountain Falls, Colo., and Larchmont, N.Y., who are serving G&C’s Manitou Beef brand steaks. Bonnie Briar Country Club executive chef Marcus Guiliano calls the meat “tender and juicy.” Black Bear Restaurant owner Victor Matthew features “Cold-Rinsed Manitou Beef” and touts the technology as “the first major breakthrough in meat production and processing in perhaps a hundred years.”
Brand-name steaks are marketed to Colorado consumers as “flatirons” and “Frankie fillets,” tender shoulder and chuck cuts that would have sold as ground beef before rinse and chill was introduced. The Western Livestock Journal recently reported that Manitou Beef shoulder cuts were selling at $6 per pound as flatiron steaks, and chuck cuts were selling at $4.50 per pound, marketed as “Colorado Strip” steaks similar to New York strips.
In Minnesota, customers at Lunds and Byerly’s stores can purchase Rocky Mountain Natural Meats Great Range bison meat, processed using rinse and chill. The bison meat’s shelf life is extended five days with the technology, according to Ide.
A good hard look
Summer 2001 trials included processing 20 head of Angus beef at G&C Packing, Bartholomew said. One result was “decreased cholesterol levels in the muscles, and we had a bigger effect in the muscles of the chuck than expected,” he says. Also, a reduction
in E. coli 0157:H7 was found in inoculated ground beef samples in the rinsed and chilled beef, compared to inoculated control samples. That contaminant is “the big issue in ground beef,” Bartholomew says.
University of Minnesota sensory tests show that rinse and chilled shoulder clod steaks rated better on tenderness, flavor, juiciness and “overall liking” than control steaks. Also, chuck and round steaks rated well on texture and juiciness. “Chuck roll steaks appeared to be less tough,” than the control group, Bartholomew says.
Bartholomew and researcher Brian Rueter are working with researchers at PM Beef Group in Windom, Minn., J&B Wholesale in St. Michael, Minn., the Minnesota Beef Council and the University of Minnesota. Rueter is completing studies on color in rinsed and chilled beef. AURI lab assistant Karen Fennern is also assisting the research.
PM Beef’s Rick Carlson, vice president of operations in Kansas City, says the company is “taking a good hard look” at rinse and chill because of the “claims to tenderness, lower microbials and food safety. … We want to take the high-quality Minnesota product we have now and enhance it.”
As processors such as G&C already claim, the technology helps both producers and packing plants, Bartholomew says. “The rinse and chill process can be used on older cattle like cull cows to improve the meat quality.” Rinse and chill will also make “more meat available for whole muscle cuts, so it would be an economic benefit to the processor.”
Rescue the little guys
Ide champions the technology as a savior for economically troubled small to mid-size packing plants and as a logical choice for safety-conscious consumers who might otherwise shy from beef. The rinsing adds about three minutes per carcass to the processing line, a time factor that large packing plants may not find economically acceptable.
“We will flow like water and go where opportunity leads us,” Ide says. “I feel good about helping small- to medium-size plants. These little guys need help in distinguishing and differentiating their product.”
Ide thinks “dozens of plants will be adopting (rinse and chill) in the next few years.” And of course he has no opposition to outfitting larger plants: “They’re all in a position to benefit from this technology.”
How rinse and chill works
Immediately after the animal is stunned, a cooled solution of water, sugar and salt is injected into the arterial system. The solution replaces arterial blood as it circulates throughout the carcass. By lowering muscle tissue pH, the solution keeps the meat a desirable red color. The acidity that develops in the carcass also helps to tenderize the meat.
By removing blood so quickly, the process also reduces the risk of contamination, especially in the hide removal process. Research has shown a 99 percent reduction in Coliform bacteria on the carcass surface when using the rinse and chill technique.