Preservation of Meat and Meat Products From Microbial Spoilage

Preservation of meat and meat products from microbial spoilage is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Food Safety: Microbial spoilage can lead to the growth of pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which can cause foodborne illnesses when consumed. Preserving meats properly helps prevent the growth and multiplication of harmful microorganisms, reducing the risk of foodborne diseases.
  2. Shelf Life Extension: Proper preservation techniques, such as refrigeration, freezing, curing, and canning, extend the shelf life of meats and meat products. This allows for longer storage, distribution, and availability of safe and high-quality meat products.
  3. Quality Maintenance: Microbial spoilage can result in changes to the appearance, texture, taste, and odor of meat products, making them unappetizing and undesirable for consumption. Preservation methods help maintain the sensory characteristics of meats, ensuring they remain fresh, flavorful, and appealing.
  4. Economic Considerations: By preventing microbial spoilage, proper preservation reduces the amount of meat and meat products wasted due to spoilage. This has economic benefits for producers, retailers, and consumers, as it minimizes financial losses associated with unsellable or discarded products.
  5. Consumer Confidence: Effective preservation measures instill confidence in consumers regarding the safety and quality of meat products. When consumers trust that the meat they purchase is properly preserved and free from microbial contamination, they are more likely to make purchases and enjoy meat with peace of mind.
  6. Nutritional Value Retention: Proper preservation techniques help maintain the nutritional value of meat and meat products. By inhibiting microbial growth, vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other essential nutrients present in meats are better preserved, ensuring that consumers receive the full nutritional benefits.
  7. Availability of Meat: Preservation techniques facilitate the availability of meats throughout the year, regardless of seasonal variations in meat production. This helps meet consumer demand, especially in regions where fresh meat may not be readily accessible or affordable.

By implementing appropriate preservation methods, following good manufacturing practices, and adhering to recommended storage and handling guidelines, the risks associated with microbial spoilage can be minimized, ensuring the safety, quality, and availability of meat and meat products for consumers.


Methods for Preservation of meat and meat products

  1. Asepsis
  2. Thermal method
  3. Non-thermal method
  4. Curing
  5. Spices
  6. Fermentation and pickling
  7. Use of preservatives agents
  8. Irradiation
  9. Hydrostatic pressure processing
  10. Hydrodynamic pressure processing
  11. Packaging

1. Asepsis Practice

Asepsis refers to the practice of maintaining a sterile and clean environment during the slaughtering and handling of meat to prevent microbial contamination. It is a critical aspect of ensuring food safety and maintaining the quality of meat products. Here’s how asepsis can be achieved:

  1. Slaughtering Practices: During the slaughtering process, it is important to maintain aseptic conditions. This includes ensuring that the slaughtering area is clean and free from contaminants. Regular cleaning and sanitization of the slaughterhouse are essential to minimize the presence of bacteria and other microorganisms.
  2. Pre-Slaughter Preparation: Before slaughter, animals can be sprayed with water to remove gross dirt and contaminants from their bodies. This helps reduce the microbial load on the animal’s skin and fur, minimizing the risk of contamination during the slaughter process.
  3. Sterile Tools and Equipment: Using sterile knives, utensils, clothing, and other equipment is crucial to prevent microbial contamination. These tools should be properly cleaned, sanitized, and stored in a hygienic manner to avoid introducing harmful microorganisms during meat handling.
  4. Hygiene Practices: Strict adherence to personal hygiene practices by slaughterhouse workers is vital. This includes proper handwashing with antibacterial soap and wearing appropriate protective clothing, such as gloves, hairnets, and masks. Regular training and education on hygiene protocols help reinforce aseptic practices among workers.
  5. Cleaning and Sanitization: Regular cleaning and sanitization of all surfaces, equipment, and utensils involved in meat handling are essential to maintain aseptic conditions. Cleaning agents and sanitizers approved for use in food processing areas should be utilized to effectively eliminate harmful microorganisms.

By implementing aseptic practices, the risk of microbial contamination can be significantly reduced, ensuring the safety and quality of meat products. Maintaining a clean and sterile environment during slaughtering and handling helps prevent the introduction of harmful bacteria, keeping meat safe for consumption and minimizing the potential for foodborne illnesses.


2. Thermal method

The thermal method is a preservation technique that utilizes heat to inhibit microbial growth and extend the shelf life of meat products. Let’s explore the different ways in which heat is applied to preserve meat:

  1. Heat Processing: Heat processing involves subjecting meat to temperatures above 100°C to achieve sterilization, which effectively kills spoilage-causing microbes. Different meat products require specific heat processing parameters based on their water content, fat content, and consistency.
  2. Dehydration: Dehydration is a method used to lower the water activity in meat, creating an environment unfavorable for the growth of spoilage-causing microbes. There are two common ways of dehydrating meat:
    • Sun Drying: In ancient times, meat preservation involved sun drying meat chunks as a means of preservation.
    • Mechanical Drying: This method utilizes controlled humidity and the passage of hot air to dehydrate meat. The dehydrated meat can be stored in airtight containers without refrigeration for several months to a year.
  3. Canning: Canning is a preservation method that involves the thermal sterilization of meat held in hermetically sealed containers. The process includes preparing the meat, precooking, filling the containers, exhausting air, sealing, thermal processing, cooling, and storage. Canned meat products can have a shelf life of at least two years at ambient temperature.
  4. Smoking: Smoking is an ancient preservation technique that imparts sensory and nutritional characteristics to meat products. Meat is exposed to smoke from burning wood or other plant materials, which contributes to the preservation process. Smoking dehydrates the meat surface, lowers surface pH, and provides antioxidant properties through the smoke constituents. It can extend the shelf life of meat for a year or longer without refrigeration.Common smoking methods include:
    • Hot Smoking: Meat is hot smoked at temperatures ranging from 60°C to 93°C with a mild addition of salt to inhibit bacterial growth.
    • Smoke Roasting: Meat is hot smoked at a temperature of about 300°C after curing. Spices are often added to enhance flavor and inhibit bacterial growth.
    • Cold Smoking: Partially or fully cured meat is hung or placed on racks and allowed to smoke for days at temperatures ranging from 23-48°C.

3. Non-thermal method

The non-thermal method of meat preservation focuses on techniques that do not rely on heat application. Let’s explore some of these methods:

  1. Freezing Method: Freezing is an effective method for preserving fresh meat while maintaining its original characteristics. By lowering the temperature to -55°C, microbial growth is arrested, slowing down the spoilage process without killing the microbes. Freezing prevents quality changes and reduces microbial spoilage. Uncooked meat can be frozen for 4-12 months, while cooked meat can be stored for 2-3 months.
  2. Chilling: Chilling is a widely used short-term preservation method for meat. Fresh meat is stored at refrigeration temperatures between 0°C and 8°C. Keeping meat at a refrigerated temperature of 4 ± 1°C helps maintain its quality for around 5-7 days. Chilling inhibits the multiplication and metabolic activities of pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and toxins. Additionally, certain parasites like Taenia cysts and stages of Trichinella spiralis can be destroyed by storing infected meat at 18°C for 20 to 30 days.
  3. Freeze-Drying: Freeze-drying, also known as lyophilization, is a preservation technology that involves freezing meat at low temperatures (-10°C to -25°C) and subsequently reducing the moisture content through sublimation. During freeze-drying, the frozen water in the meat directly converts from solid to vapor, bypassing the liquid phase. This process reduces the moisture content to as low as 0.5%. The low temperatures and absence of liquid water inhibit microbial survival and slow down chemical reactions.

Non-thermal methods such as freezing, chilling, and freeze-drying provide effective means of meat preservation without relying on heat. Freezing preserves the characteristics of fresh meat, chilling extends the shelf life for a short duration, and freeze-drying reduces moisture content while inhibiting microbial growth. These methods offer alternatives for long-term storage, maintaining quality, and ensuring the availability of meat products beyond their fresh state.

4. Curing

  • Curing is an age-old technique used for the preservation of meat, imparting desirable flavors and enhancing its shelf life. This preservation method works by reducing water activity and increasing osmotic pressure, which effectively delays microbial growth. Key ingredients used in curing include sodium chloride, sodium nitrite, potassium nitrite, and sugar.
  • During the curing process, meat is preserved through the combination of salt, nitrates, nitrites, and sugar. Salting can be accomplished by either rubbing salt directly onto the meat or soaking the meat in brine with a minimum salt concentration of 18%. This salting process helps reduce water activity in the meat.
  • Sugar plays a vital role in curing as well. It binds with moisture and reduces water activity, contributing to the preservation of the meat. Typically, a sugar concentration of 20-25% is used during the curing process. Various sugars such as dextrose, sucrose, brown sugar, corn syrup, lactose, honey, molasses, maltodextrins, and starches are commonly utilized in meats. These sugars not only enhance flavor but also help to mitigate the harshness of salt and further reduce water activity.
  • Sodium nitrite and potassium nitrite are important curing agents. They effectively control the growth of anaerobic bacteria, contribute to the desired color of cured meat, help prevent lipid oxidation, and reduce the development of undesirable odors. These nitrites play a crucial role in maintaining the quality and safety of cured meat products.
  • Curing is a valuable preservation technique that not only extends the shelf life of meat but also imparts distinct flavors. By reducing water activity, increasing osmotic pressure, and utilizing key ingredients like salt, nitrites, and sugar, the curing process provides an effective means of preserving and enhancing the quality of meat products.

5. Spices

  • Spices play a crucial role in meat preparation, adding distinct flavors and contributing to the extended shelf life of the product. A variety of spices are used, each imparting its unique taste and aroma to the meat.
  • Popular spices used in meat include pepper, black pepper, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, garlic, onion, anise, and more. These spices not only enhance the flavor profile of the meat but also possess antioxidant properties. They help reduce the rate of oxidative rancidity development, preventing the meat from spoiling and extending its shelf life.
  • Spices are incorporated at various stages of meat preparation, including during curing, smoking, and cooking processes. During curing, spices are often combined with salt, nitrates, nitrites, and sugar to create a flavor-rich mixture that penetrates the meat. Smoking meat with the infusion of spices adds an additional layer of aroma and taste to the final product. When cooking meat, spices are used to enhance the overall flavor profile and create a delicious and satisfying meal.
  • By incorporating spices into meat preparation, not only do we add depth and complexity to the taste experience, but we also benefit from their antioxidant properties that help preserve the meat. The use of spices in curing, smoking, and cooking is a time-honored tradition that elevates the flavor and quality of meat dishes, making them truly enjoyable and satisfying.

6. Fermentation and pickling

  • Fermentation and pickling are time-honored methods used in the meat industry for preserving meat while enhancing its flavor profile. These techniques offer simple and cost-effective ways to extend the shelf life of meat and meat products.
  • Fermentation of meat involves a complex biological process that harnesses the power of beneficial microorganisms, often with the addition of spices. Lactobacillus is a commonly used starter culture for meat fermentation. These microorganisms produce acids, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and antimicrobial agents during the fermentation process. These components play a vital role in preventing the growth of food-borne pathogens and spoilage-causing microorganisms in the meat, ensuring its safety and quality.
  • Pickling, on the other hand, involves immersing meat products in brine within containers for storage. The brine consists of a high concentration of salt and spices, which act as barriers against pathogens and undesirable bacteria. The combination of salt and spices not only enhances the flavor of the meat but also helps preserve it by creating an inhospitable environment for microbial growth.
  • Both fermentation and pickling offer effective ways to preserve meat by leveraging the power of beneficial microorganisms, acids, salt, and spices. These methods not only extend the shelf life of meat but also enhance its flavor, making it an appealing and tasty choice for consumers. These traditional preservation techniques continue to be valued in the meat industry for their simplicity, affordability, and ability to create unique and delicious products.

7. Use of preservatives agents

Preservatives are essential substances used to inhibit or slow down the growth of microorganisms in food. They can be categorized into three types: natural preservatives, bio preservatives, and chemical preservatives. In the context of meat and meat products, various preservatives are employed to maintain their quality and safety.

  • Natural preservatives commonly used in meat and meat products include salt and sugar. These ingredients increase the osmotic pressure and reduce water activity in the meat, creating an unfavorable environment for microbial growth. Additionally, a range of herbs and spices such as oregano, rosemary, thyme, clove, lemon balm, ginger, coriander, cumin, pepper, garlic, and turmeric are known to affect the enzymatic activity of microorganisms and enhance the permeability of their cells. Lactoferrin, a natural preservative, exhibits antimicrobial activity against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa.
  • Chemical preservatives like benzoic acid, citric acid, propionic acid, and sorbic acid are effective mold inhibitors and demonstrate antibacterial properties. Sulfites are antimicrobial agents that work against aerobic Gram-negative bacteria, molds, and yeasts. Nitrites stabilize the color of red meat, contribute to the flavor of cured meat, retard rancidity, and inhibit the growth of anaerobic bacteria in meat. Acetic acid and lactic acid reduce pH and the permeability of microbial cells, thereby preventing bacterial growth. Sorbate and acetate are effective in arresting the growth of yeasts in meat. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C), sodium ascorbate, and erythorbate serve as antioxidants, enhancing the antimicrobial properties of sulfites and nitrites. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), and Proply Gallates (PG) delay or prevent the negative effects of lipid peroxidation, reduce oxidation in meat products, and exhibit antimicrobial properties against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa. Phosphates are utilized as antioxidants in meat products, retarding rancidity and reducing oxidation.
  • Bio preservatives include substances like bacteriocin (nisin), which inhibits or kills unwanted microorganisms by forming pores in their bacterial plasma membrane. Lysozyme exhibits antimicrobial activity against gram-positive bacteria. Chitosan acts as a barrier against oxygen, inhibiting aerobic bacteria, and exhibits antimicrobial activity against bacteria by chelating ions from lipopolysaccharides, increasing cell permeability.

The use of preservatives in meat and meat products plays a crucial role in maintaining their quality, extending shelf life, and ensuring food safety. These preservatives, whether natural, chemical, or bio-based, exhibit various antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, effectively inhibiting microbial growth and enhancing the overall preservation of meat products.

8. Irradiation

  • Irradiation is a food preservation technique that utilizes various sources of ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays, X-rays, and accelerated electron beams. These forms of radiation have the ability to penetrate deep into the food and are effective in reducing microbial contamination.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, with a wavelength of about 10-400 nm, is primarily used for surface sterilization of meat. UV radiation has bactericidal properties and can effectively eliminate microbes present on the surface of the meat.
  • In the context of ionizing radiation, gamma rays, X-rays, and accelerated electron beams are employed. These forms of radiation have high energy levels and can penetrate through the packaging and into the food itself. The ionizing radiation affects microorganisms by damaging their DNA and causing ionization of water molecules within the food.
  • The damage to microbial DNA disrupts their ability to reproduce and survive, resulting in a significant reduction in their population. The ionization of water molecules produces reactive oxygen species and free radicals, which further contribute to the destruction of microorganisms.
  • Irradiation, often referred to as “cold sterilization,” offers several advantages in food preservation. It can effectively control pathogens and spoilage-causing microorganisms without significantly affecting the sensory qualities or nutritional value of the food. Additionally, irradiation can extend the shelf life of meat products by inhibiting bacterial growth and reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses.
  • It is important to note that the use of irradiation in food preservation is regulated and follows strict guidelines to ensure its safety and efficacy. The dosage of radiation applied is carefully determined to achieve the desired microbial reduction while minimizing any potential negative effects.
  • Overall, irradiation is a valuable method in the preservation of meat and other food products, as it provides an additional layer of microbial control by damaging DNA and ionizing water molecules, thereby enhancing food safety and extending shelf life.

9. Hydrostatic pressure processing

  • Hydrostatic pressure processing, also known as high-pressure processing (HPP), is a non-thermal pasteurization method used in the food industry to enhance food safety and extend shelf life. This process involves subjecting food to high pressure in the range of 3300 to 600 mega pascals (Mpa) for a duration of approximately 10 minutes.
  • The application of high pressure during hydrostatic pressure processing has a profound impact on the cellular physiology of microorganisms present in meat. It disrupts their normal cellular functions, leading to their inactivation and subsequent inhibition of growth. Additionally, high pressure can also inactivate certain food enzymes, further contributing to the preservation of meat products.
  • By subjecting meat to high pressure, hydrostatic pressure processing offers several benefits. It effectively reduces microbial populations, including pathogens and spoilage-causing microorganisms, without relying on high temperatures. This is particularly advantageous as it helps preserve the sensory qualities, nutritional value, and overall quality of the meat.
  • The process of hydrostatic pressure processing involves placing the meat in a high-pressure vessel and subjecting it to the specified pressure for the designated duration. The high pressure is evenly applied throughout the food, ensuring consistent microbial inactivation.
  • It is important to note that hydrostatic pressure processing is an additional step in the overall meat processing and preservation procedure. It is often used as a final step, complementing other preservation methods such as chilling, packaging, or curing. The combination of multiple preservation techniques provides a comprehensive approach to ensuring the safety and quality of meat products.
  • Hydrostatic pressure processing is widely recognized as a safe and effective method for reducing microbial contamination in meat. It has been extensively studied and validated for its ability to inhibit a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and molds.
  • In summary, hydrostatic pressure processing is a non-thermal pasteurization technique that utilizes high pressure to inhibit microorganisms and inactivate food enzymes in meat. By interfering with cellular functions, this method effectively enhances food safety and extends the shelf life of meat products while preserving their sensory and nutritional attributes.

10. Hydrodynamic pressure processing

  • Hydrodynamic pressure processing, also known as shockwave processing, is a technique that utilizes the principles of fluid motion and pressure to tenderize meat. This method involves subjecting vacuum-packaged meat to shockwaves generated by underwater detonation, resulting in high-pressure forces applied to the meat.
  • The concept of hydrodynamic pressure processing relies on the phenomenon of shockwaves generated by explosive forces underwater. These shockwaves create intense pressure pulses that propagate through the water and interact with the vacuum-packaged meat. The pressure levels achieved during hydrodynamic pressure processing typically range from 70 mega pascals (MPa) to 100 MPa.
  • The high-pressure forces exerted on the meat during hydrodynamic pressure processing have several effects. Firstly, they help to tenderize the meat by disrupting its structural integrity, leading to improved texture and tenderness. The pressure waves can break down connective tissues, making the meat more succulent and easier to chew.
  • Additionally, the application of hydrodynamic pressure can also have antimicrobial effects. The high-pressure forces created by shockwaves can reduce the microbial load present on the meat, including bacteria and other microorganisms. This microbial reduction contributes to improved food safety and extends the shelf life of the meat.
  • It is important to note that hydrodynamic pressure processing is a specialized technique used primarily for tenderizing meat. The shockwaves generated by underwater detonation create unique pressure conditions that help break down the meat’s muscle fibers and improve its palatability.
  • When implementing hydrodynamic pressure processing, strict safety protocols and guidelines must be followed to ensure the proper handling of explosive materials and to prevent any potential hazards. The technique requires specialized equipment and expertise to generate the shockwaves and control the pressure exerted on the meat.
  • In summary, hydrodynamic pressure processing utilizes shockwaves generated by underwater detonation to tenderize meat. The high-pressure forces created by these shockwaves help to break down connective tissues and improve the texture of the meat. Additionally, hydrodynamic pressure processing can contribute to reducing microbial contamination, enhancing food safety, and extending the shelf life of the meat.

11. Packaging

  • Packaging plays a crucial role in preserving meat products by protecting them from microbial spoilage and various defects that can occur during storage. It ensures that the quality, flavor, texture, and nutritional value of the meat are maintained over time.
  • One commonly used packaging method is vacuum packaging (VP), which involves placing the meat in a high barrier package and removing the air from it. By eliminating oxygen, VP prevents the growth of aerobic spoilage organisms, reduces shrinkage, prevents oxidation, and minimizes color deterioration. Materials such as ethyl vinyl acetate and polyvinylidene chloride provide effective barriers in vacuum packaging.
  • Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) is another packaging technique used for meat products. In MAP, the packaging material allows for controlled permeation of moisture and gases. The composition of gases within the package is adjusted to create an optimal atmosphere for meat preservation. Typically, a mixture of gases such as nitrogen (N2), oxygen (O2), argon, and carbon dioxide (CO2) is used. This controlled atmosphere helps to slow down microbial growth and preserve the freshness and quality of the meat.
  • Active packaging (AP) is a type of packaging that incorporates specific compounds or agents to actively maintain or extend the shelf life and quality of the meat. It can include moisture control systems, odor controllers, and flavor enhancers. Antimicrobial packaging is an example of active packaging used in meat preservation, where bactericidal or bacteriostatic agents are incorporated into the packaging material. These agents help inhibit the growth of bacteria, ensuring the meat remains safe and free from microbial spoilage.
  • Proper packaging also provides a physical barrier against external contaminants, prevents moisture loss, and protects the meat from light exposure. It helps to maintain the integrity of the product and prolong its shelf life.
  • It is important to note that the selection of appropriate packaging materials and techniques should be based on the specific requirements of the meat product, its storage conditions, and the desired shelf life. Packaging plays a vital role in preserving the quality and safety of meat products, ensuring that they reach consumers in optimal condition.


Why is it important to preserve meat and meat products from microbial spoilage?

Preserving meat and meat products from microbial spoilage is crucial to ensure their safety, quality, and extended shelf life. Microbial spoilage can lead to changes in flavor, odor, texture, and appearance, making the products unappealing or even unsafe for consumption.


How does microbial spoilage occur in meat and meat products?

Microbial spoilage in meat and meat products occurs when bacteria, yeasts, molds, or other microorganisms contaminate the products and multiply under favorable conditions such as temperature, moisture, and nutrient availability. These microorganisms can produce enzymes, toxins, and metabolic byproducts that cause spoilage.

What are some common methods of preserving meat and meat products?

Common methods of preserving meat and meat products include heat processing (such as cooking or canning), freezing, drying, smoking, curing, fermentation, and the use of preservatives. Each method has its own benefits and is suitable for different types of products.


How does heat processing help in preserving meat and meat products?

Heat processing, such as cooking or canning, helps in preserving meat and meat products by killing or inactivating spoilage-causing microorganisms. The heat destroys bacteria, yeasts, and molds, ensuring that the products remain safe and have an extended shelf life.

What role does freezing play in preserving meat and meat products?

Freezing is an effective method of preservation that involves lowering the temperature of meat and meat products to below freezing point. This inhibits the growth of microorganisms, slows down enzymatic reactions, and helps maintain the quality and freshness of the products for an extended period.

How does smoking help in preserving meat and meat products?

Smoking is a traditional preservation method that involves exposing meat and meat products to smoke from burning wood or plant materials. The smoke acts as a natural preservative, inhibiting the growth of spoilage microorganisms, enhancing flavor, and extending the shelf life of the products.

What is curing, and how does it preserve meat and meat products?

Curing is a preservation technique that involves the use of salt, nitrates, nitrites, sugars, and spices to preserve meat and meat products. The curing agents help inhibit microbial growth, reduce water activity, enhance flavor, and prevent spoilage, resulting in longer shelf life and improved quality.

How does fermentation contribute to the preservation of meat and meat products?

Fermentation is a traditional preservation method that relies on the activity of beneficial microorganisms, such as lactic acid bacteria, to ferment the meat. These microorganisms produce lactic acid and other compounds that create an acidic environment, inhibiting the growth of spoilage and pathogenic bacteria and improving the shelf life and flavor of the products.

What role do preservatives play in preserving meat and meat products?

Preservatives are substances that inhibit or retard the growth of microorganisms in meat and meat products. They can be natural preservatives (such as salt or spices), bio preservatives (like bacteriocins), or chemical preservatives (such as citric acid or sulfites). These preservatives help prevent spoilage and extend the shelf life of the products.

How does proper packaging contribute to the preservation of meat and meat products?

Proper packaging plays a vital role in preserving meat and meat products by providing a physical barrier against contamination, preventing moisture loss, protecting against light exposure, and maintaining product integrity. Packaging techniques like vacuum packaging, modified atmosphere packaging, and active packaging help extend the shelf life and ensure the safety and quality of the products.

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