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Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture

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Published: 12 Jul 2018

Volunteers smelling sheep meat for freshness are contributing to a Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) research project.

As part of her PhD in microbiology, Laura Rood has recruited and trained a panel of 30 volunteers to give sensory feedback on the quality of sheep meat.

“For my experiments, I am exposing meat samples to different bacteria and storing them past the end of the expected shelf life. The ‘sensory panel’ evaluates the meat’s quality every few weeks by smelling it – I really appreciate my ‘meat sniffers’ volunteering their time for science,” Ms Rood said.

“My research aims to extend the shelf life of sheep meat, which is really important given the time needed for export shipment. I’m working to help ensure Australia’s red meat continues to be a premium quality product in the international market,” she said.

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of sheep meat. Of last year’s total Australian production, we exported 57 per cent of lamb and 92 per cent of mutton to destinations that included the Middle East, US, Japan, South East Asia and China.

Ms Rood is contributing to research of the Principal Research Organisation for Microbial Ecology and Physiology (PROMEP), which is based at TIA and is a collaboration with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).

The PROMEP team previously identified the bacteria that are present on sheep meat at the time of spoilage, and Ms Rood has developed this research further.

“I’ve found that sheep meat goes off because of the make-up of the microbial community, as opposed to individual bacteria. Now I’m investigating if there are certain groups of bacteria that work together to cause the spoilage,” Ms Rood said.

She said the average shelf life differs between sheep meat and beef. This may be caused by the difference in pH, because sheep meat has a higher pH than beef, and environments with a higher pH can favour the growth of bacteria that cause spoilage.

“Sheep meat generally has a shelf life of 12 weeks when it is stored constantly at minus one degrees and is vacuum-packaged. Beef, under the same conditions, lasts for about 24 weeks,” she said.

Ms Rood is using a shelf-life prediction tool, which was developed by PROMEP and MLA to help industry determine the shelf life of vacuum-packaged beef and lamb after processing.  

MLA trials have shown that wastage of Australian red meat can be reduced by 8 per cent and save up to $18 million per year by using the shelf-life prediction tool, and making the corresponding adjustments to storage temperatures or storage time.

“The model is not only solving a real-world problem and benefitting Australia’s meat processors – it is also being used for further research and development,” said Associate Professor Tom Ross, who heads up the PROMEP team.

The team will incorporate Ms Rood’s findings into future research and development that will help enhance red meat quality.

Further information about the Shelf Life Prediction Service for vacuum-packed meat, and research updates, are available online at blogs.utas.edu.au/promep.

Published in The Advocate and The Examiner on 12 July 2018