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Meat scientists looking at new ways to preserve bacon

Antioxidants could help to extend value, quality.

Source: Kansas State University Research and Extension
Can a simple antioxidant bring more sizzle to American’s love affair with bacon? Kansas State University researchers think so, and they’re setting off on a project to figure it all out.

Meat scientists have known for a long time that meat develops an off flavor the longer it sits, even if you have it refrigerated. KSU meat scientist Terry Houser says the fat in meat deteriorates over time, a process called oxidation, caused by the interaction of oxygen with the meat product.

“We know that bacon has a problem with oxidation over time,” Houser says. “So what we’re trying to do is look at classes of antioxidants that we can use to stabilize that fat.”

Bacon purchased in a grocery store is less susceptible to oxidation because retail meat often is vacuum packaged. However, Houser and his colleagues are looking specifically at bacon that is packaged for the food industry.

“If you’re a local restaurant owner, you would most likely buy bacon in what we call an HRI, or hotel/restaurant/institutional form of bacon,” he says. “The slices of bacon are laid flat on a single sheet of paper and stacked in a box, with no vacuum packaging. They usually arrive to the store frozen in five- or 10-pound boxes.”

The challenge, Houser says, is to add antioxidants to the frozen products so that they last longer and yet maintain the flavor that customers so desire.

“Anytime we have to throw product out of the freezer is a bad deal,” Houser says. “You increase your plate costs in a restaurant scenario. We really want to minimize those losses in the bacon area.”

KSU’s work will focus on adding natural antioxidants found in smoke and plant extracts that can be most effective in preventing oxidation in bacon. Then, Houser says, they will determine how long the antioxidants work and what concentrations are optimal.

In thinking of a pork product, Houser likens bacon to the ribeye steak in a beef carcass, in terms of the value it carries in the carcass.

“So it would seem that we would want to do our very best to make sure our customers come back and eat bacon time after time,” he says.

The university’s research is funded by the National Pork Board.

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