Antioxidants 'beef up' plastic wrap

August 21, 2000

Help maintain color and extend shelf life in steaks, roasts

Washington, Aug.21 -- When it comes to beef, in the eyes of most shoppers, red is best. Now researchers may have discovered how to keep it that way longer, extending the shelf life of beef by as much as 50 percent.

Putting antioxidants in the plastic wrap used to protect meat adds two to three days to the shelf life of beef, according to Melissa Finkle, a graduate student at Clemson University in South Carolina. She presented her findings here today to scientists attending the 220th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Antioxidants slow the inevitable process that turns meat from an appealing bright red to an unappetizing brown. The change in color doesn't necessarily mean the meat has spoiled, however.

"Steaks typically turn brown before their microbial count is high enough to be [considered] spoiled," says Finkle. "But they are undesirable to consumers before they're actually unsafe to eat."

Finkle added natural and synthetic antioxidants to a plastic packing wrap that she then used to wrap steaks -- specifically, eye-of-round roasts. "The synthetic antioxidants, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytuluene) did show an increased shelf life. They stayed red for a longer period of time than the control steaks did," Finkle said.

The synthetic antioxidants extended shelf life two to three days, or about 50 percent. "Four to six days is pretty much what is normal [shelf life]," says Finkle. The natural antioxidants -- rosemary extract and vitamin E -- "showed a little bit of increase, but not very much," she added.

The research project appears to be the first to test the effect of adding antioxidants to plastic wrap. "There has been antioxidant added directly to products but not to packaging [wrap] to my knowledge," Finkle said. BHA and BHT are currently used in cereal boxes to help prolong shelf life, she noted, but antixoidant-treated plastic wrap is not commercially available.

Although only steaks were studied, the results should apply to other beef products, Finkle believes. Pork, poultry and fish were not tested.
The paper on this research, AGFD 52, will be presented at 8:00 p.m., Monday, Aug. 21, in the Washington Convention Center, Exhibit Hall D.

Melissa Finkle is a graduate student at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.

The research project was carried out under the guidance of Paul Dawson, Ph.D., a professor in the university's department of food science and nutrition.

A nonprofit organization with a membership of 161,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

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