Ask Fred

Q. I am told that wrapping meat cuts in tin foil and storing them in a completely dark room improves shelf-life. Is this true? TD

A. Some butchers do this and claim an increased shelf-life of about two weeks. However, so many other factors come into play in terms of cutting, handling and storing meat that it is very difficult to give a definitive answer. The best way to see if such a system works for you is to carry out a controlled trial over a number of days and weeks.

To be honest, though, the only time most butchers would benefit from this system would be at peak times, such as the few days before Christmas when they have to hold a large amount of stock. If you have a large quantity of meat in storage for a long period of time throughout the year, you should consider if you have the correct purchasing policy. It is far better to buy in little and often rather than keep large amounts in-store on a regular basis. It may be worth reviewing your stock control policy.

Q.Some of the carcases I am storing start to form patches of mould and a slight taint within a week of being hung. What is the problem? TC

A. Chilling, freezing and storage of meat is a complex subject and if the balance of conditions is not right in the room where you are storing the carcases, then mould and taint problems can set in. One of the most likely causes is too much moisture in the air in your cold store or chiller. Meat is susceptible to decay from moisture because of its fat and water content. Decay can take the form of discoloration, off smells and slime starting to appear on the surface of the carcase.

The storage conditions, particularly the humidity, can easily be controlled and stabilised. First get a qualified engineer to check that your air conditioning is working correctly. Any malfunction is likely to disrupt any attempt you make to optimise storage conditions.

Next, consider installing an absorption or filter system. Such systems are designed to remove excess moisture and air-borne contaminants from the air inside refrigerators, freezers and cold storage facilities. The company Coolsave, for example, supplies filters that use volcanic rock to draw in water vapour and decaying refrigerant gases. A simple filter system that can be placed inside the storage area, it does not require electricity, has no moving parts and works continuously. Filters come in three sizes.

Coolsave claims the filters achieve a number of benefits, including a reduction in condensation, elimination or slowing of bacteria, mould and mildew growth, and improved efficiency in the running of cooling plant, sometimes resulting in dramatically lower running costs.

Two other considerations are worth bearing in mind. Firstly, try not to store other materials, ingredients or products in close proximity to the carcases, as this can lead to taint as well. Secondly, if you slaughter cattle at your premises, do not be tempted to speed up the cooling of carcases immediately after slaughter or reduce the hanging time to less than a week in a bid to beat the mould setting in.

This will result in two problems: ultra-quick cooling of the carcase will result in cold shortening and very tough beef the carcases should be cooled slowly over about 10 hours; reducing the hanging time will reduce the opportunity to mature the meat beef needs two weeks or longer to mature and maturation improves flavour and tenderness.

Q. There have been roadworks outside my shop for three weeks now. It is beginning to affect my trade. I am really fed up about it. SWM

A. Road works have to be licensed. You do not say if the repairs are to the road itself or work being done by a utility company, such as water, gas or electricity. Either the local council or the utility company should have told you that they were working outside your shop for such a lengthy period and it should have given you an indication of how long the work would take. If you did not receive notice, then complain, because there is a procedure to do so. If you can prove it is affecting your trade, you may be eligible for compensation or a refund on your rates. It is worth asking.

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