August 30, 2013
A new method of measuring lamb meat tenderness using a world-first handheld laser probe is being developed in Australia and could help producers receive premiums for quality, tender lamb. The probe was developed by University of Bayreuth’s Dr Heinar Schmidt, Germany, who brought one of two prototypes to the Cowra Agricultural Research and Advisory Station recently, rather than Australian samples being sent to Germany. The probe uses the principles of Raman spectroscopy which involves analysing the way light at certain wavelengths behaves when it hits a structure, including meat. The Australian work will assess the spectre of light that results from using the probe on lamb and relate that to meat quality traits, such as tenderness. It is funded by the Australian Meat Processor Corporation, in partnership with Meat & Livestock Australia, and Charles Sturt University PhD candidate Stephanie Fowler will calibrate measurements from the Raman probe with shear-force test measurements. It is a three-year project due to finish in 2015. Department of Primary Industries senior principal research scientist David Hopkins said the probe could revolutionise lamb production and enable farmers to receive premiums for tender, juicy lamb. He said in future the laser probe could deliver objective marbling and fat measurements which could be used by producers and processors to meet market specifications. “In Germany the technology is being used to measure quality traits of pork but here in Australia we can see its potential to measure lamb marbling and fat traits which impact on tenderness,” he said. Dr Hopkins said the probe had potential to replace or complement some elements of Meat Standards Australia grading system. It could be used to phenotype animals in genetic improvement programs and assess a sire’s ability to deliver progeny with tender meat. He said shear-force technology, currently used to measure lamb tenderness in the laboratory, was cumbersome and destructive. “This new technology offers meat processors a hand-held tool which can be used on site and has the potential to provide objective eating quality measurements without destroying the product,” he said. Work so far has involved using the probe to compare meat 24 hours after slaughter with shear-force testing and will examine whether a one-day probe measurement can predict shear-force measurements at five days after slaughter. Tests have been conducted on lamb because it is easier and cheaper for the station to access but the new quality testing could be applied to beef. “It’s still early days with studies currently establishing how accurately the hand-held probe can predict lamb tenderness from one day post-slaughter to an ageing period of five days,” Dr Hopkins said. AMPC chief executive Michelle Edge said the probe project would play an important role in the future of the industry and would help the red meat processing industry.