A University of Illinois food scientist has discovered that certain solutions used by meat processors to extend shelf life actually do double duty as antimicrobial agents, killing such virulent foodborne pathogens as E. coli 0157:H7.
That’s important because E. coli can be spread via recycled solutions used to tenderize and enhance flavor in steaks, chops, and other cuts of meat, said U of I food science professor Susan Brewer.
The problem motivated Brewer and her graduate students to study the process used to inject meat with enhancement solutions before they’re offered to consumers. And the results, published in the Journal of Food Science and Meat Science, have interested industry representatives.
“With needle injection, organisms that exist on the outside of a piece of meat can get poked down into the meat where they’re less likely to be killed if consumers like their meat on the rare side,” said Brewer. Also, as the needles inject one piece of meat after another, they can spread contamination from one piece of meat to another, and recycled enhancement solution can further complicate the spread of pathogens.
The scientists found that some solutions used to extend the shelf-life of meat also were effective at killing bacteria. Brewer says the threat level for such meat cuts as chops, steaks, and roasts is not high, although ground meat not cooked to high temperatures can be dangerous. “You’re always safe cooking red meat to 160 degrees,” she says.