Spectral Analysis: Spectrophotometers Help Shine a Light on Meat Quality and Prices

Friday night can’t arrive soon enough. With the reservation set at our favorite local steakhouse, my mouth is already watering at the thought of that flavorful and juicy cut of beef. Just thinking about it makes my taste buds happy, but what makes that restaurant steak taste so great? Superior establishments choose their beef based on quality ratings that are linked to tenderness and marbling, which is measured directly through spectral analysis. Spectrophotometers provide a spectral analysis of meat through reflectance values, which aids manufacturers in processing and packaging a product that meets consumer expectations, market price pressures, and standardized grading regulations.

steak spectral analysis
Quality grading of meats provides an indication of tenderness and help to set the market price.
Image source: Flickr user jeffreyw

Reflecting the price of quality

The dollar amount of meat depends entirely on the value of the cut, but both consumers and producers are often confused by what grading standards mean and how they are determined. These standards are developed by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and are based solely on quality and composition. Spectral analysis is critical in determining categorization based on marbling (the amount and distribution of intramuscular fat) and reflectance value. Tender meat reflects more light than tougher cuts and can be measured using a spectrophotometer to determine light reflectance value. These measurements can then be used to help predict slice shear force values, creating more efficiency from processing to packaging.

raw steak spectral analysis
Marbling is one of the major factors that influence USDA Quality Grade.
Image source: Flickr user Krista

Marbling and maturity of meat products are the two main factors that influence USDA Quality Grade. Higher levels of marbling are detected through spectral analysis and are more likely to reflect cuts that are juicy and flavorful, therefore increasing the rating of the beef product. Spectral analysis also provides the least invasive testing method for quality purposes. Superior ratings allow manufactures to set a higher price for the market value of the meat, and consumers look to this grading scale as an indicator of quality before purchasing.

Influenced by consumer choice

Grading, certification, and verification of livestock products are currently under consumer review by the USDA. In fact, the “Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is seeking public input on possible revisions to the U.S. Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef to adjust for recent improvements and trends in animal raising and feeding. AMS is also seeking input on a review of beef instrument grading.” Ongoing review of meat grading systems and the measurement systems has brought about more research and technology in the area of spectral analysis.

meat department spectral analysis
Meat grading affects consumer choice, and shoppers are becoming more aware of how regulation standards affect quality.
Image source: Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture

The American Meat Science Association is continually reviewing instrumentation for assessment of USDA Beef Carcass Quality Grading. Due to the limits of human visual assessment, stricter guidelines are being set for objective color measurement data. The use of spectral analysis instrumentation provides consistent and quantifiable readings that meet these tighter guidelines.

Products designed with the industry in mind

Choosing spectral analysis instrumentation can be challenging when faced with the ongoing changes in market development, research, and industry standards. Spectrophotometers can be found in a variety of styles and choices that reflect the various needs of color measurement within this business. Choosing a company that knows the industry and works with their clients and leading research and technology experts to create a solution to meet these certification challenges is essential. HunterLab is a leader in color measurement and creates durable products that provide cost effective and reliable ways of quantifying color. Customer service and satisfaction are our top priority and we are here to help you understand and navigate these ongoing shifts. Contact HunterLab today to find answers to all your color measurement needs.

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