The quality of meat products is a reflection of the materials that have gone into making those products. Meat, water, salt, spices, casings, packaging materials and other components all have an impact on the quality of the final product. Since meat is a biological material that varies naturally in composition, it is difficult to ensure that the composition of the meat source used for further processing is similar from batch to batch. Establishing a program to monitor the selection and quality of raw materials is important to obtain a consistently made, quality product. Jones (2) and Rust and Olson (3) described the significance of raw material quality for processed meat products.

It is important to define purchase specifications for raw materials. Specific criteria representing the type or kind of product needed from a supplier should be established. It is up to the processor to determine how detailed the purchase description should be. The amount of detail specified and the level of monitoring that is applied contribute to the quality of the finished product. For example, specifications could be as rigid as stipulating the acceptable range of volatile oil content of garlic in a spice blend or merely stating the amount of garlic a spice blend must contain.

It is generally not recommended to base raw material purchases solely on price. A working relationship with suppliers should be developed to become familiar with their capabilities and reliability. In addition, suppliers need to be able to provide materials that meet purchase specifications at an agreed-upon price. To control raw material quality, the following steps are recommended: (1) establish well-defined purchase specifications, (2) set up testing procedures to verify that purchase specifications are met, (3) determine sampling frequency for testing procedures, and (4) accept or reject raw materials based on meeting purchase specifications.

The characteristics of processed meat products depend not only on the quality of the raw material used to formulate the product but also on the type of meat used. Before purchase specifications are developed, the type of meat used in processed meat products should be selected. Meat cuts vary in moisture, fat, and protein content; in the amount of pigmentation (redness); and in the ability to bind fat and water. These values can be obtained from tables; however, to more accurately determine the composition of a meat source, an analytical method should be used.

Knowing the moisture/protein ratio of a meat source can provide a guide to predict a meat product's final composition. In general, meat with lower moisture protein ratios perform better in sausage formulations. Fat contributes to palatability, tenderness, and juiciness of a processed meat product. Knowledge of the fat and moisture content is important in order to comply with meat inspection regulations that place limitations on their use.

Meat color is related to the concentration of myoglobin, a pigment found in muscle. Meat becomes redder as myoglobin concentration increases. The concentration of myoglobin in meat is dependent on several factors. An older animal has more myoglobin than a younger animal. Beef contains more myoglobin than lamb, and lamb contains more myoglobin than pork. Muscles used for locomotion have more myoglobin than support muscles such as the ribeye (longissimus dorsi). Genetics, nutrition, and environment also play a role in influencing myoglobin concentration in meat. To help maintain a consistence appearance from batch to batch, a color value ranking should be used in the formulation of meat products. This is particularly useful if a least-cost formulation program is used.

In the meat processing industry, the term bind has several meanings. It generally refers to (1) the ability of contractile protein to entrap water and fat such as in a sausage batter or (2) the surface cohesion of meat chunks to each other. Raw meat materials vary in their binding ability. Meats that have a high contractile protein content and low collagen content have high binding ability and are used to form stable batters. Beef skeletal muscle is an example of meat with high binding ability. Meats that have a high collagen and fat content and low contractile protein content have low binding ability. Heart and pork jowls are examples of meats with low binding ability. Bind value tables are available for a variety of meat sources. Tables providing proximate composition, color, and bind values for many raw meat sources, as well as an excellent overview of least-cost formulations, can be found in Pearson and Gil-lett (4).

Given the natural variation of raw materials, producing a quality product is both an art and a science. To succeed, it is extremely important to use meat that has been handled properly. Meat provides an excellent environment for bacterial growth. Since the meat used for processed meat products undergoes considerable handling during processing procedures, there are many opportunities for meat to become contaminated with bacteria. It is essential that all equipment be clean and sanitized prior to processing, and the meat must be kept cold at all times.

The development of off-odors and off-flavors in fat is known as rancidity. Over time, meat becomes rancid even if stored in a freezer. To produce quality products, meat that has become rancid should not be used. The rancid flavor and odor cannot be diluted out by combining rancid meat with fresh meat. If raw materials have become rancid, they should not be used as a base for processed meat products.

Purchase specifications are written descriptions describing raw materials. Each raw material should have a purchase description. When purchasing meat, in addition to species and portion cut, the description may specify grade (quality and/or yield), state of refrigeration for delivery of product (chilled or frozen), fat thickness (maximum average thickness and maximum at any one point), weight and thickness tolerances, muscling, trimming, netting or tying, cutting, or other material requirements. The Meat Buyers Guide (5) is a good resource for developing purchase specifications for meat cuts.

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