What is the liquid in my meat package?

Apr 14, 2016

We have all seen it, we go to the grocery store and pick out the perfect package or hamburger meat or a set of pork chops and sitting in the bottom of the package is a pinkish liquid. Often times there will even be a soaker pad in the bottom picking up this strange liquid.  Consumers first reaction is to assume it’s blood. It looks like blood, is on raw meat, and may even smell a little like iron or blood.  The same is true when you take that nice steak home and cook it perfectly to a medium rare degree of doneness; once you cut into that steak reddish pink juices flow out of the steak. This is one of the reasons many consumers even cook their steaks to well done so that this mysterious liquid, thought to be blood is gone.

This liquid which can sometimes be found at the bottom of a meat package and coming out of a just prepared steak is what meat scientists call “purge,” it is a combination of water and meat proteins that drain from meat. One of those proteins, water-soluble myoglobin, is the key reason for the meat’s red color, which is why the water is also red or dark pink. In science class, we all learned that our bodies are largely made up of water. The same is true for animals, and a high percentage of that water is held in the muscles and stays in the muscle when it’s converted to meat. Meat is typically 75 percent water, which contributes to the juiciness of cooked meats. The proteins in a steak are like a sponge that holds the water. As meat ages and is handled or cut, proteins lose their ability to hold onto water. Over time, some water is released and myoglobin flows out with it, giving the liquid a red or pink color. When the water seeps out, the protein that gives meat its color (myoglobin) flows out with the water. That protein gives the purge its color. Although it’s similar to the protein that gives blood its color (hemoglobin), it is not blood.

The liquid in a package is similar to what you find when you cook a steak. Cooking changes the purge a bit as water evaporates from meat when it’s cooked. That’s why your cooked steak or burger is smaller than when you first put it on the grill. Myoglobin also changes color during cooking. That’s why a rare steak will have red juices which a well done steak’s juices are clearer, though it is important to remember the true test of doneness is checked with a thermometer.

There are a variety of factors related to how well meat holds on to water which can include the species and age of the animal, the fatness and grade of the meat, the length of time since the animal was harvested, which muscle the cut of meat was from, and how the meat has been handled and processed. The liquid’s color is primarily determined by the age of the animal when it is harvested. Animals harvested at a younger age such as pigs or veal calves have less myoglobin in their muscles than older animals, hence a pinker liquid color for pork or veal and a darker red for a steak.

So what happens to the blood? Blood is removed after the animal has been stunned or rendered unconscious and stuck or also known as exsanguinated. This is a USDA law, which states the animal must be insensible to pain prior to exsanguination, so stun before bled. 50% of the animals blood is removed from the body and the remaining 50% stays in the vital organs, such as heart, liver, kidneys, brains etc. The blood is removed quickly for quality and correct handling purposes (typically 30 to 40 seconds). Blood is a huge byproduct in animal production. The exsanguinated product then goes to insulin for diabetics, pet food production and much more.

Liquid in a meat package should be handled carefully just like the meat itself. Purge in a meat container can carry the same bacteria as a raw piece of meat so it should be handled with care. Wash your hands after touching meat or “purge”, don’t consume it unless it has been cooked to a proper temperature, and try to contain it carefully to prevent cross contamination. Once cooked the purge that seeps from the steak is totally safe to consume and shouldn’t be a concern to any consumer.

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