Meat-based foodstuffs, use of natural antimicrobials and antioxidants

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It’s impossible to ensure the shelf-life of meat-based products without using additives such as preservatives, stabilizers and antioxidants. An alternative, though, is to exploit the preservative, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties owned by numerous natural substances. And consumers appreciate.

Always more frequently, consumers look for clean label foodstuffs, i.e. whose label is simple, easy to understand, consisting of “genuine” ingredients without “synthetic” additives. Many food industries are therefore increasingly aimed at meeting this growing need, although often this doesn’t meet other equally heartfelt needs by consumers such as long shelf life and always impeccable organoleptic characteristics. As a matter of fact, it is almost impossible to ensure foodstuff’s good shelf life, especially perishable food like meat, without using additives such as preservatives, stabilizers, antioxidants, etc. A good strategy is to exploit the preservative, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties owned by numerous natural substances whose presence on the label will be then perceived positively by consumers. Often these are substances that have positive action on the shelf life of the product and a well-compatible organoleptic profile or even improving the product itself, as in the case of spices such as rosemary or pepper, particularly suitable to be added to meat products. Moreover these substances often have the status of GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), so their use should not be subject to specific quantitative limits. The possible natural substances applicable to meat products include:

– Essential oils from aromatic plants. Plants rich in essential oils such as marjoram and rosemary were used on meat products (200 mg/kg), and showed not only antimicrobial properties and organoleptic improvement of the product, but also stabilization of lipids contained in the meat itself (1). Moreover, the tested meat product consisted of mechanically separated meat, particularly sensitive, because of the production technology through which it is obtained, rapid microbiological and organoleptic degeneration. Among the most commonly used spices to preserve and flavor cold cuts we must mention pepper (Piper nigrum). Two substances extracted from pepper, piperine and pepper acid, have both antimicrobial and antioxidant power (2). Other essential oils with antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, already used successfully to prolong the shelf life of meat products, are those obtained from citrus fruits (mainly lemons), oregano and thyme (both are rich in carvacrol, phenolic monoterpene with renowned antioxidant power), sage, garlic, mustard, basil, mint, green tea, and numerous other “spices”. In fact the use of spices to improve the shelf life of meat and cold cuts has been renowned and adopted for centuries, long before knowing the active principles responsible for such positive effects.

– Tomato concentrate. The addition of tomato concentrate to mortadella’s dough improves its stability (particularly slowing lipid oxidation) and duration of its shelf life, thanks to lycopene antioxidant, of which tomato concentrate is rich. Moreover no adverse effects have been noticed (with concentrations varying from 2 to 10%) on the product’s organoleptic characteristics such as color, smell, taste, texture and appreciation by consumers (3). For its color, texture and flavor, tomato concentrate is promising also for various applications on other cold cuts and meat-based products, especially those that require the addition of red coloring.

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