Injecting Long Life Into Meat And Poultry Products
Friday, May 6th, 2022
The process of brining has many functional ingredients and properties that give meat and poultry products a longer shelf-life. This is where injection techniques are crucial, as they affect brine retention, which is crucial to ensuring consistency of distribution, fewer costly recalls and shelf life extension.
Customers will not purchase meat and poultry products which have an inconsistent appearance, discolouration or short shelf life. The process of brining, typically used in bacon, has many functional ingredients and properties to help achieve a longer shelf-life before consumption.
This is where precise marination technology comes into its own for brine distribution. It should be even, consistent and well retained within the product. A tight needle pattern, in combination with immediate post-injection handling such as shaking or vibration, helps needle marks to be closed and the brine is more easily absorbed by the meat ensuring a juicier and more flavourful final dish, especially for lean cuts of meat that tend to dry out during cooking.
Bacon is one of many products that use the traditional method of low-pressure injection. Other applications include poultry, red meat and fish. There are multiple reasons for injecting brine, most important is the need to ensure product safety, especially for ready-to-eat products.
Brines include salts and additives that help to inhibit bacterial growth, such as listeria, and to extend the product’s shelf life and flavour to make sure that it arrives with the consumer in perfect condition.
A consistent injection pattern is key to success
A high-performance injection solution produces even more of what the food industry wants — increased yield and improved sustainability, as well as great-tasting products. Leading technology providers like GEA have developed advanced injection techniques which contribute to high brine retention and low standard deviation — crucial to ensuring consistency of distribution, fewer costly recalls and shelf life extension.
Brine must be evenly distributed throughout the meat if pockets and leakage are to be avoided. All these can cause inconsistent results during slicing and therefore cause waste and reduce profitability. Uneven distribution of brine also results in a reduction in shelf life from potentially six weeks to around two, which can prove very costly and wasteful.
Curing of bacon products can present a number of challenges to food processors, given the natural variations that occur between cuts such as inconsistent fat to lean content, or issues caused by the injection process itself such as insufficient brine retention and uneven distribution. Drip loss or purge following injection leads not only to reduced yield, but also compromises the quality of the product, and even reduces shelf life.
The ultimate pain point is of course a potential product recall.
GEA’s product expert Wim Sturm says producers can avoid these pitfalls and improve the shelf life of their products by injecting brine in a dense injection pattern, combined with low injection pressure, which avoids injection points becoming saturated which can cause the brine to leak out.
He adds: “Benefits for bacon producers using a high-density injection pattern include improved slicing yield, reduced post-injection purge and drip loss, optimum moisture and salt levels, while avoiding injecting air or foam, ultimately extending the shelf life of ready-to-cook bacon by weeks. Reduced post-injection purge not only impacts yields, it also means reduced downtime spent cleaning the equipment and surrounding environment.”
Needles tougher than steel
Technology such as GEA’s 2mm injection concept the Multijector, an automated injection system, introduces brine in a high-density injection pattern, combined with low injection pressure. A higher density of needles allows less brine per needle to be injected at a lower pressure, resulting in a better brine uptake and more even distribution, significantly increasing quality, efficiency and yield.
The quality of injection needles used also has an impact on the efficiency of the injection process as well as the quality of the end product. Bent needles lead to under injected and over injected areas in the final product, which causes inconsistent product quality, short shelf life, and can cause a ‘tiger stripe’ pattern. Needles stronger than traditional stainless steel have the superior property of recovering their shape time and time again instead of becoming deformed or bent, which helps avoid clogged needles.
Consistency provides a higher yield
Introducing brine in a dense injection pattern, combined with low injection pressure provides pinpoint accuracy. A high density of needles allows less brine per needle to be injected at a lower pressure. The distribution of brine is even, consistent and well retained within the product.
Using a high-density injection pattern, bacon producers can benefit from improved slicing yield, and reduced post- injection purge and drip loss, meaning that optimum moisture and salt levels are retained within the product. This highly targeted process also avoids the injection of air or foam, which can alter the pressure and cause blow-outs. Overall, using a high-density injection system at low pressure for the brining of meat and poultry products results in lower standard deviation, allowing for consistently high quality results and reduced wastage.
Maximising injection cycle time
Time-in-Meat is a GEA injection precision technique based on the specific combination of stroke height and injection cycle time, both optimised for each product type, running on GEA MultiJector. Thanks to the Time-in-Meat technique, the needles stay in the product longer during injection, which leads to better brine uptake and more even brine distribution. As a result, product quality and consistency are significantly increased, and higher efficiency and yields can be achieved.
Meat and poultry sectors can doubtless benefit by taking greater control of the brine injection process. This is driven by an understanding of the process and the quality of the equipment deployed to carry out the tasks involved, and ensures the benefits extend from the processor to the reseller, and ultimately to the all-important end consumer.
For more information visit www.gea.com
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