This article explains how Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) technology can overcome meat inspection limitations by providing highly-accurate and real-time fat content analysis.
Measuring the fat content or chemical lean (CL) of meat trimmings and ground meat is vital. Whether you are packing or processing meat, your ability to know the actual lean point enables you to capitalize on its true value.
For years, meat processors and packers have used several different methods of determining the fat content of meat. These include the Soxhlet method, Anyl-Ray, CEM ProFat Analyzer, and NIR and NIT Spectroscopy.
Although such techniques are capable of generating useable measurements of fat content, they share four inherent limitations which make it difficult to be able to guarantee CL values. These are:
- A requirement for skilled labor
- Sampling error
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1. Skilled Labor is Not Required
Although the need may vary from production technician to bench chemist, the Soxhlet method, Anyl-Ray, CEM ProFat Analyzer, and NIR and NIT Spectroscopy are all labor-intensive and require skilled labor.
In contrast, inline meat inspection systems with DEXA technology are fully-automated, meaning skilled labor is not required.
2. Sampling is Not Necessary
Sampling is time consuming. It takes time to transport samples to the lab, prepare samples for analysis and run the analyses. In the meantime, batches or cartons of meat remain in the plant, tying up inventory turns and taking up ‘footprint’.
The methods of fat analysis listed in the first point involves extracting and grinding very small samples of meat from production. Samples of meat are never fully representative of the full amount of meat being processed. Diligence in properly applying sampling protocols may improve things, but sampling error is inevitable and typically presents the source of most error. With cartoned product, it’s nearly impossible to identify those that are out-of-spec because samples are tested across several different cartons. Bulk sampling has similar problems.
In contrast, DEXA systems essentially pose no process delay. They inspect 100 percent of throughput for CL value and are capable of providing lab accuracy at the speed of production, enabling meat inspection and processing of up to 60 US tons of meat per hour (54 metric tons/hr).
3. Meat Processors – The Spec You Buy is the Spec You Get
With all these sampling approaches, buyers are subject to ‘gaming’. This refers to suppliers exploiting knowledge of sampling techniques and packing meat in ways that allow them to overpack fat while still appearing to meet lean requirements.
By contrast, DEXA systems allow meat packers to claim that the ‘spec you buy is the spec you get’. In fact, an independent study from Massey University in New Zealand has verified that DEXA systems provide the most accurate method of fat analysis, measuring chemical lean values within +/- 1 CL. So, meat processors, you can rest assured you are getting what you pay for if your supplier is using inline meat inspection with DEXA technology.
4. Fat Management Made Easy for Meat Packers
Meat packers who rely on traditional laboratory fat measurement methods can’t measure 100 percent of production. This means the accuracy of fat control is uncertain. Consequently, to avoid costs associated with fat claims, they may be inclined to purposefully overpack lean via visual lean measurement. The net result is that packers tend to give away several percent of lean meat for free, which is not cost effective. This may sound like meat processors are getting a deal, however, having a batch of fat and lean that is not accurate will make blending batches to precise recipe target nearly impossible.
DEXA technology can play a critical role in helping manage fat in order to secure the best value and improve the bottom line. By inspecting 100 percent of throughput and accurately measuring chemical lean values within +/- 1CL, DEXA systems offer meat packers greater precision and have the capacity to eliminate fat claims and lean giveaway. Additionally, DEXA offers meat processors peace of mind.
By allowing tighter production control and enabling meat packers to make optimal use of raw materials by getting fat content consistently right, DEXA systems afford meat packers and processors unique fat management capabilities.
5. More Than Just Reliable Fat Analysis is Achievable
Physical contaminants in meat products discovered after dispatch can result in product recalls, loss of customer satisfaction, adverse publicity and even legal action.
Along with accurate fat measurement, DEXA technology when combined with a traditional x-ray inspection system, can help meat processors comply with rigid food safety standards by simultaneously detecting physical contaminants, as well as verifying weight.
6. Product Tracking is Simple
In order to comply with increasingly-stringent food safety regulations, it’s essential that meat packers are able to access product tracking information easily and quickly. However, this is impossible with the fat analysis methods mentioned in point number 1. For example, in many carton packing operations, traceability is per batch, rather than per box, and historical data is often lacking to quickly and confidently back a fat claim.
In contrast, by dually functioning as management tools and as process control tools, DEXA systems give company leadership the information they need to make informed decisions and guarantee compliance. In fact, the increased traceability provided by inline meat inspection systems with DEXA technology allows a packer to track and trace individual cartons which allows for a powerful defense against fat claims. Additionally, DEXA systems enable meat processors to quickly verify that incoming and outgoing meat is within specification, with full traceability, as well as internally sort cartons for batch applications that require accurate blended final product.
For years the meat industry has relied on laboratory methods of fat measurement but, as this article shows, these methods of CL testing share some inherent limitations which make it difficult to guarantee the fat content of meat.
Fat analysis has come a long way and the focus has now shifted to inline analytical methods which enable meat processors and packers to improve their bottom line by offering unique fat management capabilities, as well as previously unachievable levels of traceability, safety and quality assurance.
More and more meat processors and packers are realizing DEXA’s potential as a highly-accurate method of meat inspection, and are choosing the technology to help them stay ahead in today’s highly-competitive, global meat industry.