New Technologies for New Poultry Meat Products

As the poultry industry looks for ways to drive chicken consumption and improve profitability, scientists at the University of Alberta, Canada, are experimenting with new technologies that may help on both fronts.
calendar icon 25 May 2009
clock icon 5 minute read

A team at the University of Alberta has been focusing on protein recovery, biolipids enrichment of poultry meat and emerging technologies for improving meat quality.

According to the Poultry Science Association (PSA), the group of researchers the Alberta researchers is investigating several promising approaches that may lead to a variety of new poultry meat products that exhibit enhanced taste and nutritional characteristics and would justify higher margins.

They are also looking into a new technology (for protein recovery) that would enable producers to recapture some of the nutritional and dollar value that is currently being lost in the production process.

Leading the work is Dr Mirko Betti, an assistant professor of poultry meat science in the University of Alberta’s Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science.

Joining him on the protein recovery project is a team of seven graduate students, one post-doctoral student and a technician.

Protein Recovery

Dr Betti’s team is investigating methods to recover proteins from mechanically separated poultry meat and spent hens.

The team is developing a new technology that will enable not only the extraction of proteins from these by-products, but also a reduction of fat content and the removal of heme pigments.

The team's current work is predicated on earlier research that Dr Betti did in conjunction with Dr Daniel Fletcher at the University of Georgia.

Possible applications of the recaptured proteins include meat fillers, edible protein film (casings), biodegradable packaging and coating agents.

"One additional advantage of using poultry proteins as functional ingredients for food applications is that humans seem to have a lower predisposition to allergenic reactions towards proteins sourced from poultry than they do to other sources of protein, such as fish, soybeans, eggs or milk," said Dr Betti.

According to Dr Betti, the team hopes to have a provisional patent on the technology in the US soon.

Biolipids Enrichment

The focus of this research is on increasing omega-3 fatty acids in poultry meat. Dr Betti is also working on technology to stabilise these fatty acids during processing and cooking (boiling, frying and roasting).

One primary challenge is that, because white meat is very lean, it is difficult to enrich with omega-3.

Dark meat, however, is much easier and faster to enrich: it can be made to have almost the same composition as salmon within four to six days through the use of bird flax seeds or other sources of omega-3.

Given the size of the omega-3 food market in North America – approximately $2 billion now and expected to grow to $7 billion over the next three years – there is an enormous opportunity here for the poultry industry to offer consumers a more diversified choice of omega-3-rich protein sources beyond those currently recommended, such as salmon, cod and sardines.

High-Pressure Processing

Dr Betti is also studying the effects of high-pressure processing (HPP) on chicken meat proteins.

HPP is an emerging technology, first developed in Japan in the 1970s and 80s for pasteurising fruit juices, that uses high hydrostatic pressure rather than heat to sanitise food.

In short, it is a way to cook food without heating it, so that nutrients normally damaged by the heating process are preserved.

One challenge for HPP is that it is expensive. However, Dr Betti believes producers eventually will be able to justify the additional expense by developing products further up the value-added curve, which ranges from conventional and health foods to clinical and functional foods – that is, foods that help address health problems like heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.

In addition to the above, Professor Betti is also interested in pre- and post-mortem factors affecting poultry meat quality and in the extraction of valued-added compounds from poultry bone masses.

"Dr Betti's work is representative of some of the very best work that poultry scientists have committed themselves to, for the benefit of the poultry industry and consumers," said PSA President, Dr Mike Lacy.

Calling attention to some of the market forces driving his work, Professor Betti said: "Today’s consumers look at food differently than in the past. They are typically more aware of the nutritional aspects of what they eat and, increasingly, take a more active role in determining what foods best serve their health needs and overall lifestyle. This trend offers an opportunity for poultry processors."

The market for poultry products has undergone a sea change over the last three decades.

In the US market in 1975, whole birds accounted for 61 per cent of sales, cut-up 32 per cent and 'further processed' products only seven per cent. According to the National Chicken Council, by 2008, these numbers had been almost completely reversed, with further processed poultry products accounting for 48 per cent of the market, cut-up 41 per cent, and whole birds just 11 per cent.

May 2009

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