Chewing the fat

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Agriculture, Meat

The US Agricultural Research Service is working on technology that
shows the ratio of lean meat to fat in a commercial cut of pork.
According to scientists, the implications for the pork processing
and export industries could be immense.

Consumers have undoubtedly become more health conscious. This has posed a challenge to the meat processing industry, which has had to work hard to convince an often sceptical public that meat can be healthy.

As a result, instruments to measure the lean-to-fat ratio in meat have appeared on the market, and the latest development in this field involves the use of dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA).

According to the ARS, DXA images can accurately show the composition of pork carcasses. The procedure is non-invasive, quick and requires little user input. "The technology is based on using x-rays of differing energy levels to scan for soft tissue of differing densities,"​ scientist Alva Mitchell told Agricultural Research​ magazine.

The latest DXA instruments which are now being tested, use a wide-angle or fan-beam technology that will scan even wider sections, increasing scanning speed. The ARS used the technology to measure pork carcass composition by performing a total scan of pork carcass halves. Information from selected cross-sections of the image was found to be highly predictive of the composition of the entire carcass.

The implications for the pork processing and export industries are immense.

"Dual x-ray absorptiometry would allow packers to know just what they are paying for: the true value of the meat and not a large amount of fat that gets cut off before shipping,"​ said Mitchell. The ARS says that the next step for the DXA instrument is to find a commercial packing plant to test the technology at commercial speeds.

The ARS​ says that previous instrumentation has allowed the fat-to-lean ratio to be determined with an acceptable degree of accuracy. But following the latest test on dual x-ray absorptiometry, more rapid and accurate methods to test the fat content of meat could soon be on the market.

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