Exploding meat

December 19, 2000

Even if the meat is tough, you can still make your dinner party go with a bang

A NEW way of tenderising meat has just one snag-it involves a hefty explosion. Most people tenderise meat with a culinary hammer, bashing it repeatedly to break down muscle fibres. Or you can add meat-tenderising powder, which contains an enzyme that digests muscle fibre and connective tissue. But how do you tenderise meat on an industrial scale?

Researchers at the US Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland, think they have an answer. They have been blasting meat with water at explosive pressures. And they have found their process also kills food-poisoning bacteria, such as E. coli, in the meat. "We think it is probably rupturing the bacterial cell walls," says lead scientist Morse Solomon, who outlined the idea at a Honolulu conference this week.

The process works by sending a shock wave through the meat to bust the tough, chewy fibres. To create the shock wave, researchers place a slab of meat on top of a steel plate at the bottom of a water-filled plastic garbage can. Then they detonate an explosive-equivalent to about a quarter of a stick of dynamite-inside the can. The water transmits the shock wave through the meat, but the unfortunate garbage can gets blown to smithereens.

Solomon says the shock waves penetrate the entire cut of meat, so bugs deep inside it are killed-achieving a thousand-fold reduction in bacteria levels during tests.

The process works best on small, garbage-can-sized batches. A larger tank doesn't work as well, for reasons that aren't yet clear. And the meat has to be packaged in robust containers so it isn't destroyed.

Food processing plants might worry about using explosives, so the ARS is trying other methods of creating shock waves. One idea is to use a powerful pulse of electricity to create the shock.

Randy Huffman of the American Meat Institute in Arlington, Virginia, welcomes the idea but says: "The real challenge will be getting this implemented in a real-world solution."
Author: Kurt Kleiner

New Scientist issue: 23/30 December 2000


New Scientist

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