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New Sensory Testing Facility Open

By Sharon Durham
December 16, 2004

New Agricultural Research Service (ARS) food processing and testing facilities in Beltsville, Md. will make it easier for scientists and others to evaluate the safety and quality of meat products.

Two years in development, the new sensory testing facility at the ARS Food Technology and Safety Laboratory houses 10 testing booths. Each one includes a computer so trained panelists can offer quick and efficient feedback to researchers. Food technologist Martha Neale Liu has overseen the remodeling of the new facility.

Laboratory scientists look for ways to tenderize and reduce the amount of pathogenic and spoilage microbes on whole muscle meats and processed meats, such as hams and sausages. Hydrodynamic pressure processing (HDP) and other pressure processing methods are being evaluated to achieve these goals. HDP has been shown to be successful in tenderizing whole muscle meat, but its effectiveness in processed meat products is unknown

To test meats for texture, juiciness and flavor, sensory testing panels are convened. Some are more general in nature, testing for personal observations of flavor, juiciness, etc. Other panels, called technical descriptive panels, are more sophisticated, requiring extensive training to allow panelists to quantify those perceptions. Tenderness can also be determined by laboratory instruments.

Meats used in testing are processed and cooked on-site using commercial equipment. To approximate commercial conditions, equipment such as a food chopper, vacuum stuffer and vacuum tumbler are used to make further processed meat such as hams and sausages. A commercial smokehouse is used to cook and/or smoke the meat products.

New studies are underway to evaluate pressure technologies in the role of improving the quality and shelf-life of meat products. Use of the new equipment and sensory testing facilities will assist the scientists in determining the value-added capabilities of these technologies.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.