Common Ingredients

Some of the common ingredients added to processed meat products are described below.

Salt - Salt is common to all curing solu­tions. Technically, it is the only substance required for a product to be considered cured. Composed of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride, salt plays an important role in the production of pro­cessed meat. Salt serves three functions in sausages: preservation or shelf-life extension, extraction of the myofibrillar proteins needed to make the product bind and flavor enhancement. Many companies are now producing sausage products with less salt. Sausages that state "lower salt" or "less salt" on the label must, by law, have reduced the salt level in that product by at least 25 percent compared to the "traditional" product. However, since salt is a preservative, added care must then be taken in preparation/processing and home storage of these reduced-salt products.

Phosphates - Phosphates are used in production of some sausages to retain moisture, solubilize proteins and inhibit rancidity, which often results in improved texture, juiciness and flavor. The legal limit for phosphates in finished sausages is 0.5 percent by weight, but most manu­facturers use less than that because of reduced palatability.

Nitrate and Nitrite - Early European sausage-makers recognized that salts collected from certain specific geo­graphic locations produced superior sausages. Later, it was discovered that these salts contained nitrate which was present as a natural contaminant. Nitrate (N03) is broken down by bacte­ria to nitrite (N02) during the curing process; it is nitrite that is responsible for the improved qualities of sausages.
Nitrate is only used in the production of dry sausages, and dry-cured hams, shoulders and bellies, which require a long cure, and thus need nitrate to continually produce nitrite during the curing process. Modern meat processors now add nitrite directly to meat or meat mixtures in very closely controlled amounts.

Of the body's exposure to nitrite, 20 percent comes from food (nitrate is found naturally in green leafy vegetables such as spinach ). Of that 20 per­cent, only 2 percent to 3 percent comes from processed meat. An estimated 80 percent of nitrite exposure comes from that produced within the body.

In the early 1980s, there was concern over the health risks of nitrates/nitrites. Studies had shown that nitrosamines (which can be formed when nitrites combine with by-products of protein degradation-amines-in the stomach) were carcinogenic (cancer causing) in laboratory animals.

Nitrosamines were rarely found in pro­cessed meat products, although traces of these compounds had been found in bacon cooked at high temperatures to a crisp/well done state. For that rea­son, new processes are now used which significantly reduce the amount of nitrite used in curing bacon and minimize nitrosamine formation in cooked bacon. These processing and manufacturing procedures are monitored by USDA to help assure that nitrosamine formation is minimized.

According to a December 1981 report by the National Academy of Sciences, neither sodium nitrate nor nitrite itself has been shown to be carcinogenic.
Nitrite is used for curing meat to inhibit the growth of a number of food poisoning and spoilage microorganisms, including Clostridium botulinum; to retard the development of rancidity; to stabilize the color of the lean tissue; and to contribute to the characteristic flavor of cured meat. Since nitrite is an antioxidant, it helps prevent warmed-over flavor (WOF). By the time they are con­sumed, most processed meat products contain less than 50 parts per million of nitrite.

Water - Water serves as a carrier for 68 salt and other ingredients permitting uniform distribution of these substances throughout the meat. Ice or cold water is often used during the chopping proc­ess to cool a meat emulsion, thus ensur­ing improved product stability. In most meat products the moisture:protein ratio approximates 4.0, (i.e., the meat product contains four times as much moisture as protein) . When a label reads "water added;' a regulated amount of water, specific for each of many products, has been added to enhance the tenderness, juiciness and overall palatability of the product. In the new, low-fat processed meat products, water is used to replace fat, which also reduces caloric density. In frankfurters and other cooked sausage items, added water can be substi­tuted for fat, provided the combination of the two in the finished product does not exceed 40 percent. The fat content limit is 30 percent.

Sugar - A variety of sugars including molasses and other sweeteners are com­monly used in the production of pro­cessed meat and sausage. Sugars used range from sucrose (cane or beet sugar) to dextrose (corn sugar). The dextrose group includes corn syrup, corn syrup solids and sorbitol. Primarily, sugar is added to cured or processed meat to counteract intense saltiness of cured meat and as a medium (food) for the microbial fermentation process used to reduce the pH of dry and semi-dry sausages. The lactic acid, produced by fer­mentation of the sugar, reduces the pH and gives these sausages their tangy flavor. With the exception of sorbitol, the addition of sugars or sweeteners to a product increases browning of meat during cooking. Because sorbitol has the opposite effect, it is used in frank­furters to reduce charring when the meat is grilled .

Spices - Many different spices are used to give processed meat products their distinctive flavors. Certain spices also act to inhibit bacterial growth and oxidation. Among the spices most com­monly used in sausages are: red, white and black pepper, allspice, bayleaf, mustard, garlic, anise and cinnamon.

Fat - The fat content of most processed meat products is government-regulated. Some cured meat, such as whole mus­cle hams and corned beef made from the round, have little fat, and may be up to 97 percent fat-free. The fat content of hot dogs, bologna and most sausages, limited by the USDA to a maximum of 30 percent, is controlled during the comminution process. However, as stated earlier, added water can be substituted for fat. Sausages with a label stating "lower fat" must have 25 percent less fat than the 30 percent fat in the usual sausage product of that type ( i.e., less than 22.5 percent total).

Mechanically Separated Meat­ - High-quality meat that is mechanically separated from the bone is used in some sausages and occasionally in restruc­tured meat. After conventional hand­ deboning, machines are used to separate the meat adhering to bones, which increases the yield of meat obtained from animal carcasses. The common level of usage for mechanically sepa­rated meat (MSM) in sausage is from 5 to 10 percent of the weight of the product. However, USDA regulations permit use-levels up to 20 percent MSM from beef, pork or lamb if MSM is listed in the ingredient statement on the label. Although MSM is widely used around the world , its use is limited in the United States.

Extenders and Binders - Certain sausage products may contain extenders and binders, alone or in combination, such as nonfat dry milk, dried whey, reduced lactose whey, whey­ protein concentrate, calcium lactate, cereal flours, soy flour, soy-protein con­ centrate, isolated soy protein and/or vegetable starch at levels up to 3.5 per­ cent of the finished product. Isolated soy protein is an exception to this regulation and may be used up to a level of 2 percent in the finished product. If soy products are used in the formulation, their presence must be reflected in the product-name label; for example, "frank­ furter, cereal added" or "bologna, soy­ protein concentrate and nonfat dry milk added'.' Some soy proteins improve bind­ing qualities, flavor, cooking yields and slicing characteristics, while others increase protein content or are added to lower-quality products for economic reasons.
Other Ingredients

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C), erythorbic acid and their respective salts, sodium ascorbate and sodium erythorbate, are especially useful in improving and maintaining the color of processed meat. These compounds have been shown to inhibit formation of nitrosamines in cured meat.

A variety of compounds are added to fresh and dry sausage in regulated amounts to combat oxidative rancidity The most common of these antioxidants are BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and propyl gallate.

Source - Lessons on Meat

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