A Must-Have For Meats

By Lisa White

Phosphate suppliers are creating new formulations for meat and poultry processing that address Americans’ health concerns.

With the proliferation of cleaner labels and minimal additives in today’s food, phosphates have received a bad rap recently.
Many experts would say this reputation is undeserved. This is especially true in meat and poultry processing, where phosphates are held in high esteem.
“Phosphates are the most cost-effective food ingredient, bar none,” says Larry Guerin, industry manager for meat, poultry and seafood and technical services manager for Budenheim/Gallard-Schlesinger Industries, an ingredient and processing additives supplier based in Plainview, N.Y. “Processors get more bang for their buck with this product than anything else. For what they spend, phosphates are the most functional ingredient.”
Phosphates are a natural substance found in all mammals. If meat did not contain phosphates, the muscle structure would fall apart.
The two types of phosphates used in the meat industry include potassium and sodium. The USDA limits use to 0.5 percent of the final product and allows up to 8 ounces of phosphate salts in meat.
Phosphates used in meat and poultry products are typically approved by the USDA Office of Labeling to be listed in their generic form or as “sodium phosphates,” “potassium phosphates” or “sodium and potassium phosphates.”
“Since phosphates are typically hydrolyzed rapidly by intrinsic enzymes before the cook [process] and by heat during the cooking process, they are soon in the orthophosphate form,” says Lucina Lampila, Ph.D., a food scientist for Prayon, an Augusta, Ga.-based phosphate supplier.
Gene Brotsky, senior technical service rep for Cranbury, N.J.-based Innophos, a producer of phosphates, says this additive traditionally has been used most often in the pork industry for cured product, such as ham, bacon and hot dogs. “However, in the last 15 years, phosphate use has exploded with poultry and, specifically, further-processed poultry items. Although beef is a fairly new segment for phosphates, this additive is now used in marinated beef products,” he says, adding that there is still a great deal of untapped potential with phosphate use in meat processing.
 Phosphates also are often used in delicatessen meats to form the viscous protein film that helps hold the meat pieces together, which is critical to the manufacture of large boneless chicken breast, boneless hams and turkey breasts that can be sliced at the deli counter, according to Lampila.
“The pyrophosphates and tripolyphosphates are very useful in combinations with salt to develop the emulsions common to frankfurters and sausages, and lower pH phosphates can be used alone or in blends to accelerate cure color development,” Lampila says.
Guerin says a common misnomer about phosphates is that it is a binder. “It is not a water binder, but a functional food ingredient that works in conjunction with protein molecules to raise the pH back up so moisture can be reabsorbed in meat the same way it was when the animal was living,” he explains. “When phosphates are injected into meat, soft muscle is created that holds moisture.”
Why phosphates?
Along with helping to maintain meat moisture, this additive offers a virtual laundry list of other benefits
According to Barbara B. Heidolph, market development manager, food at St. Louis-based ICL Performance Products LP, part of Israel Chemicals Ltd., a producer and marketer of phosphates and phosphate blends, this ingredient also extracts proteins to help improve meat texture and tenderness. Phosphates also stabilize emulsion products and enhance color development.
Phosphates help improve meat shelf-life stability by stabilizing fat, reduce the rate and development of rancidity and aid in microbial inhibition. “By interacting with cations, specifically iron and copper that catalyze fat rancidity, phosphates aid in preventing the ions from interacting with fat,” Heidolph says.
Pyrophosphates and tripolyphosphates tend to protect the flavor of beef products by sequestering iron that could otherwise cause the development of warmed-over flavor, says Mike Hamlin, food business development manager at Prayon.
“Sodium chloride in itself tends to cause a rancid note due to lipid oxidation, but sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) compensates for that oxidative effect. Since phosphates tend to reduce cook-cool losses, moisture in the finished meat or poultry product typically remains higher and succulence is greater. Similarly, phosphates tend to reduce freeze thaw losses and allow frozen and thawed meats to retain more flavor compounds, protein and moisture,” he says.
Brotsky says by tying up iron, which is a pro-oxidant, phosphates act as an antioxidant in meat systems. Also, according to Guerin, STPP is used to control Salmonella.
In addition, phosphates fit well in reducing dietary sodium, even though many are sodium phosphates, because they work synergistically with sodium chloride (salt) to reduce the total amount of salt required in further-processed, value-added products, Lampila says. “Phosphates can also address the reduced sodium objective via the partial or total replacement of sodium phosphates with potassium phosphates or through the use of higher-performance phosphates that can be used at lower levels than STPP alone,” she says.
New developments
The phosphate industry, says Heidolph, has focused on processing improvements, including increasing the rate of solution, cold water and salt compatibility as well as yield maintenance. “Consequently, ICL’s Nutrifos 088 Sodium Tripolyphosphate goes into solution rapidly and modifies the protein in meats to help maintain moistness, tenderness and flavor,” she says.
Marcy Epstein, M.P.H., C.N.S., C.D.-N, director of research and development at First Spice Mixing Co., an ingredients supplier based in Long Island City, N.Y., concurs that this segment is constantly redefining itself.
“These trends are driven by specific outcome requirements where pH control and emulsification are of the highest priority for optimum moisture, color and emulsification properties,” she says.
There have been some phosphate products that have been used overseas or for other foods that have recently made their way into the U.S. meat industry. For example, trisodium pyrophosphate, previously only used in Europe, was recently approved by the USDA and is now available in this country. Brotsky says this additive offers improved functionality.
“Typically, alkaline pyrophosphates are very difficult to dissolve and, as a result, are not often used. Traditionally, phosphates have to be added to products before salt or they won’t dissolve. This new product has a high solubility, even in the presence of salt, and can be used in the same products traditional phosphates are used in,” he says.
Tricalcium phosphate is another newer meat additive that was previously used mainly in orange juice. This ingredient was introduced to the meat industry by Innophos after receiving USDA approval to be used in ground poultry products as a whitening agent. “We recently had a poultry company that makes chicken nuggets include tricalcium phosphates in their formulation to avoid color discrepancies,” Brotsky says.
Calcium phosphates can be used for nutritional purposes, as well, although processors cannot make additional claims for meat products unless the meat is part of a complete meal, such as a packaged lunch or dinner.
With the USDA’s new nutritional guidelines emphasizing low sodium, phosphate suppliers have developed lines that limit or eliminate this ingredient.
Last year, Innophos unveiled a new, low-sodium phosphate that has been shown to have no significant effect on meat flavor. Called Curafos So-Lo 93, the line provides enough sodium to adjust the pH and has similar functionality in tests as premium sodium phosphates. This additive can be used in any processed meat or poultry product.
Along these same lines, ICL offers a sodium free phosphate called Nutrifos 100. “By using sodium-free phosphates along with other functional ingredients that are sodium-free, such as gluconates and lactates, in processing protein products, the food manufacturers are able to reduce the overall sodium content while maintaining a functional level of sodium chloride/salt,” Heidolph says.
New and innovative phosphate blends also have recently been developed to provide processors with a tailor-made system ideal for their process and target product. These phosphate blends vary in pH, as well as the abilities to both control water hardness and interact with protein.
Budenheim/Gallard-Schlesinger Industries offers both specialty phosphates and integrated blends. “We blend potassium, sodium and phosphates to produce high pyro contents,” Guerin says.
First Spice Mixing Co. has developed three versions of phosphate blends for the meat industry, including Vitaphos for meat emulsions, Vitacuraid for pumping and Tumbleraid for massaging and tumbling meat and poultry products. “Our phosphate blends are designed to increase flavor perception in lower fat meat as well as meat that has a tendency to dry out with storage,” Epstein says.
ICL also offers a line of phosphate blends geared for the meat and poultry industry. “We also have technical experts available to assist manufacturers in the selection of a phosphate system and the development of new protein-based foods,” Heidolph says.
Some of the new technologies in phosphate chemistry are related to homologously produced sodium and potassium phosphates, which impart the best properties of each phosphate type, according to Hamlin, who adds that much work is also being conducted in the area of reversing some of the damage induced in stressed meat syndromes.
Looking ahead, there are many areas of the meat and poultry industry that can still benefit from phosphates. Suppliers of this ingredient predict its use will become even more prevalent in the future.
“Phosphates will remain a critical tool for manufacturers to meet their customers’ needs and expectations,” Heidolph says. “This is a key functional ingredient. It is difficult to make a high quality, cost effective meat or poultry product without phosphates.”