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New tool assesses the quality of mechanically separated meat

Final Press Release

New tool assesses the quality of mechanically separated meat

A joint venture between universities and private enterprises has resulted in the development of a tool that can measure the degradation of the muscle structure in mechanically separated meat (MSM). All MSM is currently sold as a low-value product – although quality differentiation is possible.

The vast majority of chicken meat is sold as cuts of breast, thigh and wings, but when these parts have been removed by machine, there is still a good deal of meat left on the carcass. These scraps can also be mechanically removed, but since muscle structure will inevitably undergo some degree of degradation by this procedure, EU legislation stipulates that it must be called mechanically separated meat (MSM).

MSM products must be declared as ingredients and cannot be sold as meat. Therefore, these products are often used as ingredients in, for example, sausages or animal feed.

In MACSYS researchers from six EU countries have collaborated to develop a method for determining muscle structure degradation and thereby providing a potential for enabling assessment of the quality of MSM.  

The main problem is that, until now, it has not been possible to measure the degree of muscle structure degradation. Therefore, all products have been classified as MSM. However, how much the tissue degrades depends on the type of machinery used and on the pressure used to separate meat from bones. In recent years, machines and methods for separating meat from the carcass have significantly improved giving rise to raw materials with wide differences in the degree of muscle structure degradation of the final products.

Reducing food waste

The main purpose of MACSYS was to develop analytical methods for differentiating the quality of MSM products and transfer the results to an online tool.

Each project partner has contributed knowledge on biochemical and histochemical methods of analysis, software for image analysis, mathematical modelling and online sensor techniques. The result is a fully-automated image analysis system and a fast-track prototype sensor for measuring such characteristics in an objective manner.

The idea is that slaughterhouses will be able to routinely order analyses of their products – and that down the line the fast-track method will be developed into an in-line method whereby slaughterhouses will be able to test the products and processes themselves as and when they need to. The aim is to increase the value of carcass meat with focus on quality, which means less food waste and a more sustainable poultry production.

The EU will also acquire a common and objective analytical method that deals specifically with the text in the legislation on the "degradation of muscle structure."

The potential associated with changing the current legislation on poultry production is extensive – especially since the demand for chicken meat in Europe is expected to rise by six percent from 2009 to 2020. The current legislation implemented in the EU also varies from country to country, leading to competition on unequal terms.

If the new analytical method becomes standard, we can get a common understanding within the EU and the various countries can ensure that the import of MSM is based on objective quality criteria, says Project Coordinator Margrethe Therkildsen.

Discussion of a new standard

As part of the MACSYS project, a CEN workshop was held in Brussels at the beginning of March 2016. The objective of this workshop was to develop a CWA (CEN Workshop Agreement) on the technical requirements and methods for classifying the degree of muscle structure degradation in mechanically separated chicken meat (MSM).

At the workshop the new method was presented to the industry, which then had the opportunity to discuss whether they could form consensus on its use. This was the first of a number of meetings that may later lead to a change in the legislation.

The MACSYS project has now presented a tool that shows that it is actually possible to measure the extent of muscle tissue degradation. Now it is up to the industry to determine whether this is a useful tool. Thereafter, it is up to policymakers to decide whether a change in legislation is required – and to finally set threshold values to allow differentiation between quality groups of mechanically separated meat.


For more information please visit: www.macsysproject.eu