Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have taken a noninvasive tenderness prediction system used in estimating beef tenderness and applied it to pork, according to a report appearing in Taking Stock, an electronic newsletter distributed by the American Society of Animal Science.

The technology, developed in the ’90s, is based on visible and near-infrared reflectance spectrometry, which helps identify U.S. Select beef carcasses with outstanding tenderness in the ribeye/strip loin muscle. Food technologists Steven Shackelford, Andy King and Tommy Wheeler, in the Meat Safety and Quality Research Unit at the Roman L. Hruska Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, NE, invented the system and tested it on more than 4,000 beef carcasses and 1,800 boneless pork loins.

Working with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, researchers have shown how the technology could be applied on the ribeye during carcass grading at commercial processing facilities and to individual cuts of meat after aging. They also partnered with the National Pork Board to successfully predict tenderness of boneless pork loins during the boning and trimming process.

Recognizing that some steaks and chops turn brown quicker than others and often have to be sold at a discount or thrown away, scientists were able to modify the system to predict color stability. They looked at environmental factors, such as lighting and oxygen consumption, by simulating a retail display case to mimic the conditions steaks are exposed to in a traditional supermarket.

They also studied variations in genetic pedigrees of 500 animals and found considerable differences in color stability.  This suggests that color stability might be improved through genetic selection.

Scientists continue to assess the many applications of the system, which has shown to be efficient and cost-effective in predicting tenderness and color stability in beef and pork.