MLBA6: December / January 2009
Natural and organic cured meat products: Manufacturing and safety
The annual growth in the availability of natural and organic foods around the world has been dramatic as producers and processors have responded to consumer demand for foods perceived to be "healthy" and "wholesome", even though many of the health-related claims have been difficult to substantiate scientifically.
The requirements that must be met for processed meats such as hams, bacon, frankfurters and bologna to qualify as natural or organic have resulted in unique and unusual approaches to the development of these products. This is because, while "natural" and "organic" are two separate and distinct categories of meat and poultry products in terms of USDA regulations and labels, neither of these product categories can be manufactured with added sodium (or potassium) nitrite or nitrate.
Since nitrate and/or nitrite create distinctive, unique properties that characterize cured meat, and because there is no known substitute for these compounds, products manufactured to simulate cured meats but without added nitrite or nitrate, and without any other modifications, will be unattractive and atypical. However, the USDA permits the manufacture of uncured versions of typical cured meats according to the Code of Federal Regulations (9 CFR 319.2) (2006).
Thus, there is another category of processed meats, separate from "natural" and "organic", and that category is "uncured".
The term "cured" relative to processed meats is universally understood to mean the addition of nitrite or nitrate with salt and other ingredients to meat for improved preservation (Pegg and Shahidi, 2000).
While several ingredients including sugar, spices, phosphates and other ingredients are typically included in cured meats, it is the addition of nitrate/nitrite in one form or another that results in the distinctive characteristics of cured meat (Cassens, 1990). On the other hand, products that are similar but made without nitrite or nitrate, must be clearly labeled as "uncured."
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