The Importance Of pH In Meat Quality

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pH refers to the level of acidity or alkalinity in meat, and it plays a crucial role in determining the quality of the meat you eat. A proper pH level ensures that the meat is fresh, tender, and juicy. It also helps in preserving the meat for a longer period of time. When the pH level in meat is too high or too low, it can result in spoilage, discoloration, and even a sour taste. That’s why it’s crucial to maintain the right pH level in meat to ensure that it’s safe and healthy for consumption.

As a meat lover, you might have noticed that some cuts of meat are juicier and more tender than others. Have you ever wondered what causes these differences? One of the most important factors that affect meat quality is pH. The pH level of meat is a crucial indicator of its freshness, taste, texture, and safety. It is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the meat, and it plays a crucial role in determining the overall quality of the meat. 

The pH level of meat can be influenced by various factors, including the animal’s age, diet, and breed, as well as the processing methods used. In this article, we will provide an in-depth analysis of the significance of pH in meat quality, the factors that affect it, and how it can be measured and managed to achieve optimal meat quality.

What Is Meat Quality?

Meat quality is a broad term that refers to the various characteristics of meat that determine its suitability for consumption. It encompasses a range of factors, including taste, texture, nutritional value, and overall freshness. The quality of meat can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors, such as the animal’s breed, how old the animal is, its diet, and how it was raised and processed. 

One of the primary indicators of meat quality is flavor. The taste of meat is influenced by a complex combination of factors, including the animal’s diet, the presence of fat and muscle, and the cooking method used. High-quality meat should have a distinct, savory flavor that is neither too bland nor too overpowering. The texture of the meat is also an important factor in determining its quality. Tender, juicy meat that is easy to chew and digest is generally considered to be of higher quality than tough, dry meat with consumers.

Another important aspect of meat quality is its nutritional value. Meat is an important source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, but the nutritional content can vary depending on the animal’s diet and other factors. High-quality meat should be relatively lean and contain a good balance of nutrients. It should also be free from harmful additives and preservatives that can compromise its nutritional value.

Finally, meat quality is also influenced by its freshness. Fresh meat should be free from any unpleasant odors or discolorations and should be stored at the proper temperature to prevent spoilage. Proper handling and storage are essential to maintaining the quality of meat, as exposure to light, heat, and air can all cause it to deteriorate quickly.

How Is Meat Quality Measured?

The quality of meat is determined by various factors such as the pH of meat, color, texture, and fat content. The pH of meat is an essential factor that determines its quality. The pH of fresh meat ranges from 5.5 to 6.2 and is measured using a pH meter. A pH meter is a device that measures the acidity or alkalinity of meat, on a scale from 0-14 where >7 is alkaline, and <7 is acidic.

Meat & pH Levels

Below are the common meat cuts and their ideal pH range:

  • Pork: 5.6-5.8
  • Beef: 5.5-6.2
  • Lamb: 5.8-6.0

Additional meat products & pH ranges:

  • Mixed meat in vinegar: 4.5-5.2
  • Raw fermented sausage: 4.8-6.0
  • Canned meats: 5.8-6.2
  • Blood sausages: 6.5-6.8
  • Muscle tissue (directly after slaughter): 7.0-7.2

What Factors Affect pH in Meat?

As previously mentioned, the pH of meat is affected by several factors.

One of the primary factors affecting meat pH is the animal’s age at the time of slaughter. Younger animals have a higher pH, while older animals have a lower pH. This is because younger animals have more glycogen stored in their muscles, which is converted to lactic acid after slaughter, increasing the pH. In contrast, older animals have less glycogen stored because with age, exercising muscle glycogenolysis is accelerated, resulting in a lower pH. Therefore, pH declines in meat are correlated with the enzymatic degradation of the animal’s glycogen level.

Another factor that affects meat pH is the animal’s diet. Feeding animals a high-carbohydrate diet increases the amount of glycogen stored in their muscles, resulting in a higher pH after slaughter. On the other hand, feeding animals a low-carbohydrate diet decreases glycogen stores, resulting in a lower pH. Therefore, glycogen levels are greatly influenced by the amount and quality of the animal feed that it has eaten the month prior to slaughter.

Stress is another significant factor that affects meat pH. When animals are stressed before slaughter, they release adrenaline, which depletes glycogen stores in their muscles due to muscle contraction. This leads to a lower pH, which can result in meat that is tough and dry, with a reduced shelf life.

Finally, processing techniques such as electrical stimulation and aging can also affect meat pH. Electrical stimulation can result in an early and rapid decrease in meat pH. This improves tenderness from a rapid loss of ATP, physical disruption of the animal’s muscle fiber, and a lowered pH. On the other hand, aging meat can increase meat pH and enhance flavor. For example, dry-aged meat has a higher pH. This is thought to be from the formation of nitrogen compounds in the meat.

Why Is High pH in Meat An Issue?

High pH in meat is a major concern for both consumers and producers alike. One of the main issues with high-pH meat is that it can lead to a reduction in meat quality. This is because high-pH meat is often associated with a condition called Dark Firm Dry (DFD), which makes the meat tough, dry, and unappealing. This can be a problem for both consumers and producers, as it can result in lower demand for the product and financial losses for the producer.

High-pH meat can also be a food safety concern. This is because the high pH level can provide an ideal environment for bacteria to grow, which can increase the risk of foodborne illness. Therefore, producers need to monitor the pH levels of their meat and take appropriate measures to ensure its safety and quality.

Signs Of Meat With A High pH

  • A purple appearance – this is often referred to as dark-cutting meat, as the meat doesn’t develop the ‘normal’ bright red color of oxymyoglobin
  • Coarse texture
  • Loss of moisture (higher water holding capacity)
  • Reduced shelf life from bacterial growth
  • Despite cooking, the meat will remain pink, as if it is undercooked

Do Genetics And Gene Markers Influence pH And Meat Quality?

Genetics plays a critical role in determining the pH level of meat. Certain breeds of animals are genetically predisposed to have a higher pH level in their meat. However, pigs with the Halothane gene are more likely to have a lower post-slaughter pH level

Another way genetics can influence meat quality is through the presence of gene markers. Gene markers are specific genes that influence the traits of an animal, such as meat quality. Gene marker technology is used to increase the ultimate pH in pigs. The most common gene which influences ultimate pH is the RN gene

Summary

The pH of meat is an essential factor that determines the quality of meat. The pH of meat is an essential factor that determines the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of the meat. The pH of meat is an essential factor that determines the shelf life, safety, and nutritional value of meat.

If you are unsure which pH meter will best suit your meat quality testing needs, or you would like to know more about testing the pH of meat, do not hesitate to contact the world-class team at Atlas Scientific

pH Probes & Sensors

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