5 Facts You Didn’t Know About The Processing Of Meat Before It Reaches Your Plate

How does the meat that is consumed get to supermarket refrigerators? What requirements must it meet before being sold? We explain what processes are used in the meat industry from the moment the animals are killed at the slaughterhouse.

The only contact most of us have today with the farm animals we eat is when they are already on supermarket shelves. We barely know anything about the life of these animals on factory farms, and we know very little about what happens from the time they are killed at the slaughterhouse until the time they reach our plates. It’s no wonder that in order for meat to be marketable, it must first go through processes that seem like they were taken from a horror movie. Let us explain.

1. When an animal dies in the slaughterhouse, their nervous system fails to deliver stimuli for muscle contraction, blood flow, and oxygen delivery, and pathways for nutritious substances to tissues and organs are interrupted. After a period of time, which varies depending on the species and size of the animal (between 6 and 12 hours for cows, 1-6 hours for pigs and even less time for smaller animals), the state of muscle flaccidity is gradually replaced by a progressive contraction of all muscles, that, when it reaches its maximum expression, is known as rigor mortis. At this moment, the toughness of the meat is high because the fibers of the muscle are fully contracted.

2. When pH values inside the muscle fibers of a dead animal drop below 5.8, a steady increase of protein degradation begins. This is when the softening of muscles takes place and transforms the carcass into the meat we are familiar with. This softening accelerates when the animal is hung upside down.

3. The progressive process of flesh softening is called “maturation”. During the ripening process, the growth of fungi in the meat surface, mostly of the genus Thamnidium, secrete enzymes and substances that increase the preferred taste by consumers. These molds have to be removed with the knife before the meat is marketed. This standard process depends on the type of animal, minimum for chicken (2 days), intermediate for pigs (3-6 days), and maximum for cows (2-5 weeks, depending on the age of the animal).

4. The period of “maturation” of beef is between 10 and 30 days. Dismembered animals remain in cold storage. The decomposition process needed to commercialize the meat is increased progressively from the second day of the animal’s death up to 30 days. The fibers of dead flesh are one of the strongest materials in nature and can only be denatured by heat or bacterial putrefaction.

5. Over time, the volatile substances tend to dissipate in the atmosphere of the cold storage and the amino acids continue their degradation process. From the twentieth day after the death of the animal, the flavor of the meat decreases progressively. From 30 days postmortem, meat begins to release a large amount of iron. Iron is responsible for this growing metallic taste of the most degraded meat.