Leatherhead proves mechanically butchered meat is fresh

Kathy Groves, Professor at Leatherhead Food Research
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Leatherhead Food Research has called for more sophisticated analyses for meat harvested from advanced mechanical butchery technologies, following a High Court ruling. 

According to the ruling, most of the meat available in UK shops is the product of butchery by a machine and not by hand. In some cases, this can leave 50% of the meat on the bone, unless this is removed by some other way, then it cannot be used as meat.

To overcome this, Newby Foods developed a machine that would remove residual meat from the bone without crushing the bones or liquefying the meat.

Once this stage is complete, the meat is passed through another machine that is effectively a mincer. The finished product looks like ordinary mincemeat, although it was known as “desinewed meat” (DSM) in the UK.

According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) this meat is not the same as mechanically separated meat (MSM) and, in 2012, the agency issued a moratorium on the production of DSM created from the flesh of ruminant animals, and in the case of DSM from pigs, marketing it under any description other than MSM.

The second part of this was challenged by Newby. Its defence was that the product of the first stage of this process is not MSM and that the moratorium was based on an error of law.

As the UK’s only United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) accredited laboratory for muscle fibre structure analysis to determine the quality of mechanically separated meat, Leatherhead was called upon to act as an expert witness.

Analyses performed by Leatherhead demonstrated that the muscle fibre structure of chicken and pork harvested via Newby’s process was consistent with ‘fresh meat’. As a result, the judge ruled that the meat was not MSM.

“The ‘Leatherhead method’ of analysis was directly referred to by Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart in the final ruling,” said Newby Foods’ managing director Graham Bishop.

“It proved beyond doubt that our meat has the properties of standard fresh meat, not mechanically separated meat.”

Head of microscopy at Leatherhead Food Research, Professor Kathy Groves, handled the Newby Foods project. “Our evaluation of Newby Foods’ samples involved detailed microstructural analysis. In all cases, the muscle fibre structures were almost completely intact, just as you would expect to see with fresh meat,” she explained.

“The technique we used could enhance food manufacturers’ incoming quality inspections for products where the inclusion of mechanically butchered meat is acceptable, but mechanically separated meat is not.”

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