AgResearch is working on improving freezing techniques so exported frozen meat can match the quality of chilled meat, reducing cost and increasing profitability for producers.
Senior scientist muscle biochemistry and meat processing, Dr Brad Kim, is leading the project to work out the best way of freezing product to narrow consumers' perceived quality difference.
"In general, consumers perceive that non-frozen chilled meat has better quality attributes than frozen-thawed meat," Dr Kim said.
"This is likely because frozen meat generally has not gone through a sufficient ageing process prior to freezing. In that regard, chilled New Zealand meat attains higher prices than frozen meat not only because the chilled products are prime cuts, but also it is considered a higher quality product having more reliable tenderness, less drip loss and longer retail colour display life."
Although retail consumers still perceive chilled produce as higher quality, this premium frozen product could be a good option for the food service sector as it offers the flexibility and storage benefits of frozen produce but has a similar taste and tenderness to chilled.
Recent studies by AgResearch found that for meat quality attributes, such as tenderness, water-holding capacity and colour stability, differences between chilled and frozen- thawed meat could be narrowed so long as the meat is aged sufficiently prior to freezing.
"This can potentially provide an opportunity for the New Zealand meat industry by both saving costs associated with additional storage time, while also supplying high-quality meat products to the premium end of the market throughout the whole year, and without compromising important quality attributes," he said.
Consistent results demonstrate that ageing then freezing has a considerable beneficial impact on meat quality attributes such as improving tenderness, water-holding capacity, colour stability and lipid oxidation stability compared with the frozen (without ageing)- thawed meat from beef, lamb and venison. The study shows the importance of getting each step in the ageing, freezing and thawing process correct.
"The ageing time affects meat tenderness development while freezing/thawing conditions also influence meat quality by affecting the shape and size of ice crystal formation within muscle. Therefore, identification of optimum processing regimes of ageing/freezing/thawing should be warranted to maximise the meat quality of aged-frozen- thawed meat."
Further research is now being undertaken to identify the optimal processing regimes of ageing, freezing and thawing to maximise the meat quality of aged-frozen meat."
AgResearch will feature more information about this work on our Fieldays stand, number PF14 in the Premier Feature area.
Stephen Doran is senior communications adviser at AgResearch.