Lucrative Functionality

By Pamela Accetta Smith, associate editor

Phosphates are fast becoming essential in cost-effective meat and poultry processing.
Most meat and poultry processors are quick to say that phosphates are here to stay. And when it comes to the proverbial bottom line, they mean it — quite literally. And when you’re something that’s being touted as the most cost-effective food ingredient in the industry — bar none — that’s a tough act to follow.
“Phosphates are inexpensive and achieve a lot of ‘bang for the buck,’” says Gene Brotsky, meat specialist for Innophos Inc., a Cranbury, N.J.-based phosphate producer. “They are highly versatile, covering a wide pH range. Although typically considered as enhancing protein moisture binding, a low pH phosphate can have the opposite effect and accelerate drying in dry sausages.”
That said, let’s get down to form and function for a minute.
Phosphorus is a nutrient vital to human, animal and plant life. It is one of the most common substances in our environment, naturally occurring in our food, water and bodies. According to, elemental phosphorus was discovered accidentally in 1669 while an impoverished German chemist was trying to make gold. Today, phosphorus is an important part of the products that are indispensable to modern living and good health.
A single phosphorus compound can have a broad range of applications, the Web site explains. For example, sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP), a critical ingredient to the performance capabilities of automatic dishwasher detergents, is also used to preserve the moisture and flavor in shrimp and hams and can be used in mineral processing. There are a few characteristics that define phosphate properties, mainly molecular structure and pH (generally in a 1 percent solution), the site says. These determine the functionality of phosphates that, in turn, determine how the phosphates are used. They contribute buffering strength, sequestering (or chelating) power, dispersion and absorptive capabilities, and solubility. Phosphates are usually used as compounds of phosphate ions in combination with one or more common elements, such as sodium, calcium, potassium and aluminum. They also offer benefits as nutrient sources.
The two main types of phosphates used in the meat industry are potassium and sodium. The USDA limits use to 0.5 percent of the final product. Meats and poultry may be treated with phosphates by injection, tumbling, soaking or adding dry to ground meats, says Brotsky.
“The goal is to contact every particle of protein to make it more functional,” he says.
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.” In the past, this additive has most often been used in the pork industry for cured products such as bacon, ham and hot dogs. These days, phosphate use has grown tremendously in poultry processing.
Beef is a relative newbie in the phosphate world. Although used mostly in marinated beef products, phosphates are looking at a great deal of unexploited potential. 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 roast beef, boneless hams and turkey breasts that can be sliced at the deli counter. Phosphates also help improve meat shelf-life stability by stabilizing fat, reducing the rate and development of rancidity and aiding in microbial inhibition.
Tricalcium phosphate is a relatively newer meat additive that was previously used mainly in the manufacture of orange juice. This ingredient was introduced to the meat industry by Innophos, says Brotsky, after receiving USDA approval to be used in ground poultry products as a whitening agent.
Phosphates and pH
According to the Phosphate Forum of the Americas (PFA) in Atlanta, phosphates influence the pH of both water and meat. Their effect on the pH of meat, however, is much less than that on water, due to the buffering capacity of meat. Water-holding capacity of meat is greatly affected by pH. It could be compared to the action of a sponge and is important to meat processing in that as proteins are able to hold more water they become more soluble, says PFA.
Water-holding capacity in meat is at a minimum at what is called the iso-electric point (pI) of proteins. At this point, equal positive and negative charges on the protein result in a maximum number of salt bridges between peptide chains and a net charge of zero. The pI of meat (where water-holding capacity is at a minimum) is in the pH range of 5.0 to 5.4, which is close to the pH of meat after it has gone through rigor mortis. Brotsky says phosphates restore the natural tenderness and juiciness of post-rigor meat to that of freshly slaughtered meat.
“They replace the natural phosphates that breakdown and, properly used, can enhance meats to approach the flavor and quality of well-aged meats,” he says. “Phosphates also have an antioxidant function that maintains fresh flavor in precooked meats.”
Phosphates and health
In terms of addressing consumers’ health concerns, Brotsky says highly functional phosphates can take over a lot of salt’s binding effects and allow lower salt or salt substitute use, thus achieving lower sodium.
“The phosphorus in phosphates is an essential mineral that is deficient in some older populations; adequate phosphorus is needed to balance added calcium in the diet for good bone health,” he says.
Phosphate Facts
Finished Product Phosphate Used Phosphate Function
Ham, corned beef Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Moisture binding
  Sodium Tripolyphosphate/  
  Sodium Hexametaphosphate Blends  
Sausage, franks, bologna Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Emulsion development
  Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate,  
  Tetrapotassium Phosphate  
  Tetrapotassium Phosphate  
  Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate  
Roast beef Sodium Tripolyphosphate Moisture binding
Poultry Products
Poultry products Sodium Tripolyphosphate; Moisture binding
  Sodium Tripolyphosphate/  
  Sodium Hexametaphosphate Blends  
Carcass washes Trisodium Phosphate Remove Salmonella and
  Campylobacter (bacterial pathogens)  
Shrimp Sodium Tripolyphosphate Mechanical peeling of shrimp
Canned Crab Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate Bind copper from blood to prevent blue discoloration
Canned Tuna Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate Adjust pH to prevent struvite formation (crystals that look like glass)
Surimi Sodium Tripolyphosphate/ Cryoprotectant to protein
  Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate Blends  

With nutritional guidelines emphasizing low sodium, phosphate suppliers have developed lines that limit or eliminate this ingredient. For example, Innophos last year unveiled a new, low-sodium phosphate that has been shown to have no significant effect on meat flavor.
“Curavis® So-Lo 93 is a good binding phosphate that is 93 percent reduced in sodium,” says Brotsky. And for standard meats, Innophos has introduced another innovation — Curafos® StabilColor.
“It is a newer pyro molecule that has excellent solubility and unique functionality for specialized applications,” Brotsky says.
Phosphate proliferation
BK Giulini Corp., Simi Valley, Calif., is the North American marketing arm of BK Giulini GmbH, Germany — a leading phosphate producer owned by Israel Chemicals Ltd. BK Giulini distributes a broad range of phosphates and phosphate specialties as well as a number of unique organic-inorganic food ingredients, primarily serving meat, poultry, seafood, dairy and dairy-related industries. The company’s products include a wide range of agglomerates, blends and foodgrade commodities such as sodium, potassium and calcium phosphates.
Phosphates have a beneficial effect on meat production in various ways:
High buffering helps to stabilize the pH
Polyphosphates have good sequestering properties to chelate polyvalent cations (calcium, magnesium and heavy metal)
Guaranteed stabilization of dispersions, emulsions and suspension
Long chain phosphates have a bacteriostatic effect (especially on gram-positive microorganisms)
Reduction in undesired precipitation of jelly and fat in meat products
Have beneficial effect on consistency and texture in emulsions
Have positive effect on the development, intensity and stability of color in the final product
Have positive effect on swelling of meat protein (activation of actomyosin for maximum hydration)
Source: Budenheim

Budenheim USA Inc., Plainview, N.Y., supplies specialty phosphates that are designed for multi-purpose applications in the meat, seafood and poultry industries. For chemists, phosphates are the salts of phosphoric acid. For life, says Budenheim, phosphates are indispensable. Phosphates have a beneficial effect on emulsion stabilization and water retention. It is the combination of integrated phosphate types which guarantees optimal results in meat processing, says Budenheim.
And Innophos, a leading North American manufacturer of specialty phosphates, offers a complete range of foodgrade phosphates for baking, beverage, dairy, meat, seafood, poultry and nutritional-supplement applications.
“We combine our knowledge of phosphate technologies, ingredients and processes to develop innovations that will enhance products, increase consumer appeal and add nutrition and convenience,” says Brotsky. “Whatever the application, our on-site technical assistance helps in the development of specialized innovations for a multitude of product lines.”
The future looks bright for phosphates, says Brotsky, “especially in prepackaged, ‘restaurant quality’ meals with lower salt.”
And for most consumers, it doesn’t get better than that.