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Lexicon for Meat Science & Technology Allied Fields

Introduction and Background

Introduction

Terms used to describe meat and meat processing have been accepted into the scientific jargon for a number of years, but as technology has improved and the variety of meat products has become more abundant so has the necessity of providing clear and concise definitions for the terms used to define meat and to describe meat processing.  The popular use of these terms by consumers, journalists, public health officials, nutritionists, and medical researchers may or may not, in fact, be used to convey their original meanings.  Or their original meanings have evolved over time to mean something else.  Such confusion can result in misinformation regarding meat consumption patterns, meat product manufacture, and food safety.   

As will be described in the body of this paper, we will present in this review three of the definitions that address three of the most prominent issues regarding the proper use of terms.  These include first a definition of ‘meat’, secondly definitions for ‘red’ and ‘white’ meat, and finally a discussion and classification for meat processing.      

The objective of the lexicon is to define meat and meat products and provide a standardized lexicon of terms for use by scientists, food technologists, meat industry personnel, health and allied professionals, journalists, and consumers to accurately classify meat and meat products when conveying meat related information.

Background and development of the Lexicon

Evolution of terms

Historically, terms used in the meat industry were never created using a single systematic method nor were their definitions designed to include all possibilities of their usage. They were, instead, created in a more empirical, practical fashion over decades and even centuries to define an industry and its related practices encompassing a variety of species, processes, technologies, and products all evolving over time. A host of terms, some considered jargon, were created for scientific, regulatory, and day-to-day industry needs. As in other industries, much jargon is commonly used in the meat industry because it is an ‘ancient craft’ and these terms are still considered the most appropriate. The same is true for many terms that describe the traditional processes the industry uses to derive food from animals. Generally, three distinct processes are used in the meat industry:

  1. slaughter/chilling (or harvest),
  2. fabrication (minimal processing), and
  3. further processing.

The slaughter process refers to the steps followed from the time the live animal is stunned or immobilized through the dressing process to the point that the carcass is placed in refrigeration for cooling. In a practical sense, the meat industry often refers to this period as the conversion of muscle to meat.  The fabrication (deboning, cutting) process takes the chilled carcass (considered meat at this point) and cuts it into smaller, more useful components (e.g. wholesale, primal, subprimal, and retail cuts, and trimmings). It is called fabrication because the carcass itself (which is in a form of limited value for consumers) is converted (fabricated) into more useful end products for consumers or raw materials for subsequent processes and products. Finally, certain cuts like hams, and the trimmings generated from fabrication are converted into a variety of value-added, newly created, and uniquely different meat products by a host of technologies including grinding, chopping, curing, smoking, cooking, drying and fermenting. These additional procedures are classified as processing.

However, in the context of slaughter, fabrication, and processing, this general framework does not include nor fully encompass the complexities of modern meat fabrication and processing techniques and can readily contribute to term-related confusion. The poultry industry, for example, does not use the term ‘fabricate’ to describe the deboning of the carcass, but prefers to call it ‘further processing’. Other examples include wholesale cuts that can be mechanically tenderized, meat cuts with ‘enhanced’ flavor and tenderness by the addition of added ingredients (e.g. salt, water, flavorings), and meat from various meat recovery systems that separate lean meat from fatty trimmings or bones (e.g., finely textured beef, advanced meat recovery, and mechanically separated).

The terms used by industry personnel, meat scientists, or regulatory officials may seem different than those used (or understood) by consumers unless they have some historical perspectives of the terms. For example, ground beef is not considered to be a ‘processed product’ because it comes from the raw product fabrication stage, but according to regulatory labeling ground turkey is a ‘processed’ product. Yet, consumers may consider both to be processed. These complexities and nuances, among many others, have been thoroughly considered by the lexicon committee. Other terms currently found in scientific and popular press literature can be equally ambiguous. The term “fresh” for example, can be used in some contexts to mean that meat has never been frozen  (9CFR381.129 2017) while in other contexts, fresh may classify a meat product as one prepared for consumption without added curing ingredients (9CFR317.8 2017).  Fresh meat, therefore refers to meat that contains no added ingredients and is not frozen.  This product is quite perishable and has a very short shelf life even under refrigeration.

Red and white meat

Meat is a single term that encompasses a range of species and describes the consumable tissues that make up a host of safe, wholesome, nutritious, and desirable products for the consuming public. These products range in form from raw fresh cuts created via the fabrication process to those made utilizing more advanced processing methods. Much confusion has arisen from the terms red meat and white meat when used as categorical terms. The Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 was established to ensure the wholesomeness of what was considered red meat species (beef, swine, sheep, goat, and horse). As time passed, and as meat from other species, primarily poultry, became more popular, these were added to the inspection regulations (Poultry Products Inspection Act of 1957). The distinction between ‘meat’ and ‘poultry’ still exists in the USDA regulations, but with time, meat from lighter colored avian species has been referred to as white meat to distinguish it from the darker red meat species. However, these terms do not provide an adequate description of the variation that can exist between and within species. Because differences among muscle fiber types, mitochondrial densities, myoglobin concentration, instrumental color variations, and other variables suggest that certain products should be grouped as red or white, whereas it would be more informative to precisely describe the actual parameter of interest when communicating scientific information. For example, in terms of nutritional studies of meat consumption, the red and white meat terms are often used as surrogate descriptors when unsaturated or saturated fat content of meat is actually of interest.

Processing

All foods require preparation and processing to varying degrees and meat may simply be the primary ingredient in a product just as flour is the base ingredient in a host of cereal, bakery and pasta products. Meat preparation for consumption generally includes particle size reduction of the meat base; addition of non-meat ingredients (for various functions ranging from flavor, to protection against pathogens, to preservation of shelf-life); and/or thermal processing. Other preparation techniques that are used to enhance meat products include fermentation, smoking and drying. The committee decided to divide meats into two categories based upon the degree of preparation applied; this resulted in two major classifications: 

  1. minimal processing, and
  2. further processing.

These were then subdivided into other classifications depending upon whether additional ingredients were included or whether the process involved a specific lean recovery technology. The further processing classification also contains two sub classifications – thermally treated and those treated achieve commercial sterility.

In recent years, the term “processed meat” has developed a negative connotation to imply a product was manipulated in a manner that was less wholesome, nutritious or safe for long-term health than a meat product that has not been “processed”. Processed meats are often associated with products that are prepared using curing agents such as a sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite is used to improve food safety, extend product shelf-life, and to slow development of rancidity (Sindelar and Milkowski, 2012). More accurate definitions and terminology for meat and processed meat will allow for standardized communication among scientists, nutritionists, health care professionals, journalists, consumers, and others.

The AMSA Lexicon Committee chose to organize the definitions using a lexicon/taxonomy system that has resulted in the Meat Science Lexicon described in this document. During their deliberations, the committee recognized many different uses of meat terms and descriptions of a variety of meat products.  In addition, the committee also observed the use of meat terms in different contexts and that some terms have specific meanings in one context but not others. The meat industry has become more complex over the years as use of new technologies have been adapted and accepted, and as the regulatory environment has changed.  Furthermore, there is increased public awareness and participation in discussions about meat due to increased use of social media. Thus, new terms appear describing the output of these new technologies; however, these do not always have a systematic or scientific definition.

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