Meat Technology and Quality
Several challenges face the Irish meat industry on both home and export markets. In order to remain competitive as a supplier of premium quality meat the industry must develop new skills, particularly in product innovation and marketing. Our role is to support competitiveness and innovation in the meat industry through a high quality and scientifically sound research programme.
Through our links with other Teagasc research centres and with universities and research organisations in Ireland and abroad we have developed a broad whole-chain approach to meat research. This ranges from improved genetics, through on-farm factors to post mortem interventions and finally to innovative meat products, novel packaging and recovering value from meat processing streams.
Breeding for improved meat quality
In collaboration with the ICBF we are developing methods to enable meat quality traits to be incorporated into the breeding index for Irish AI bulls. This includes developing rapid methods that can be used in factories to predict meat quality traits for the offspring of AI bulls. In this way the genetic merit of AI bulls for meat quality can be assessed over time and made available to producers when they select a bull with the prospect of improving the eating quality potential of beef from the Irish population.
Optimising meat quality
It has been well established that post mortem factors have a greater effect on meat eating quality than on-farm factors. Nevertheless we take a whole chain approach to optimising meat quality. We collaborate with animal production scientists (within Teagasc and externally) to determine the effects of factors such as breed, gender, age and production system on meat quality attributes. We also work with the meat industry to determine the effects of post mortem factors such as chilling rate, electrical stimulation, hanging method and maturation time on eating quality. We are collaborating internationally to develop a European model to predict eating quality for all the on-farm and post mortem factors.
Healthier Convenience Meat Products
This is a key research priority which supports the meat industry in the development of new or improved meat products to address consumer demands for healthier, convenient meat products at an affordable price. Research areas include improving the healthiness of meat products by:
- reducing the fat and salt (sodium) content while maintaining the sensory quality of the standard products;
- replacing synthetic additives with natural ingredients (clean label);
- the inclusion of nutraceutical bioactive compounds i.e. functional foods;
- replacement of animal fat in meat products with more beneficial fats, including feeding strategies to change the fatty acid profile in the carcass.
Meat Products for Elderly
Healthy ageing is a challenge of growing international importance. Red meat is intrinsically a source of certain nutrients which are particularly important for healthy ageing. If meat products can be made more appealing to older adults by modifying their texture, while retaining or enhancing their nutritive value, this could enhance the quality of life of this growing sector of the population. There is a knowledge deficit in the area of understanding the interactive influence of processing, formulation and packaging with meat microstructure and nutritional content to influence nutrient bioaccessability and product acceptability to older adults. Research in this area prioritises optimisation of meat processing, formulation and packaging technologies in relation to food structure, flavour, nutritional content and consequently functional performance with a view to providing case studies and tools that will enhance the ability of Irish meat processors to tailor meat products to the requirements of older people.
Structure/function relationship in meat and meat products
Product quality is influenced by various food matrix properties which arise through the assembly of endogenous and exogenous basic constituents under a set of processing conditions. Understanding the relationship between structure (at molecular and supra-molecular levels) and function, and the regulation of this relationship, can enable the adoption of a knowledge-based approach in the generation of targeted food systems which deliver consistent product quality. This knowledge facilitates the targeted modification of product and optimisation of processes through science-based design.
Recovering Additional Value from Meat Processing
Recovery of high value functional co-products from meat processing streams represents an area of significant opportunity to enhance the economic performance and improve the environmental impact of the Irish meat industry. Our research programme capitalises on many potential opportunities to valorise meat processing streams by processing raw materials (e.g. tendons, bones, offal etc.) to extract valuable functional co-products. Establishing effective and efficient protocols for extracting functional proteins/peptides from tissue (offal) and liquid (e.g. blood) is underway. Downstream applications include both food (human and pet food) and non-food (biomaterials/biomedical) uses.