Meat producers and processors seek the aid of freezing process to store meat and meat products for a long time before it’s proper use. By means of freezing, low temperatures help in elongating the shelf-life of these products by limiting the growth of microbes and microbial activity. Firstly, freezing causes crystal formation out of the water present in meat, which directly harms the microbes as their cell membrane are ruptured due to these water crystals. Secondly, freezing at temperatures at which water freezes, lead to unavailability of water in meat for any chemical and biological reaction, and thereby leads to stopping or slowing of microbes count (growth). Also, there are several parameters in meat that have to be preserved in order to keep the consumers motivated to purchase and consume processed meat. These properties include—meat texture (softness), flavour (juciness), odour, water holding capacity and other parameters. Meat products undergoes a number of changes when they are stored for a long period of time under frozen condition. These changes can affect these products chemically and physically and can change their overall acceptance by consumers and their market demand. Therefore, it’s essential for both manufacturers and consumers to know how extreme cold temperatures can affect meat and the products formed out of it (both positively and negatively).
Positive and negative impacts of freezing meat and meat products—
Shelf-life Extension: After butchering, if meat is frozen under very low temperature (freezing point of water), it’s shelf-life gets prolonged given to the slower microbial activity due to unavailability of water for biological reactions. This helps the manufacturers to transport and provide meat to all distances around the world without it’s deterioration. It also acts as a benefit for consumers who wish to store purchased frozen meat for a longer duration before cooking. Furthermore, this factor increases the availability of meat in the markets for consumers.
Lower Histamine Levels: If meat is snap-frozen just after butchering, this activity causes lowering of histamine (a chemical released by cells) levels. This type of meat with lesser histamine level can act as a boon for consumers who suffer from histamine related health issues. They can find such meat products as a safer and more reliable food choice than freshly butchered, unfrozen meat.
Environment protection: Frozen meat and meat products can reduce individual carbon footprints as consumers shop less and buy frozen meat which can last for a longer duration. This can ultimately help in protecting and preserving our environment and surroundings.
Safety against preservatives: Frozen meat unlike other frozen foods, contain no preservatives to make it more appealing, making it suitable for consumption without any added harmful preservative. This is a desirable characteristic of frozen meat for consumers.
Overall convenience: Frozen meat helps in the reduction of overall exhaustion of consumers with respect to making trips to the meat market for meat requirements for any sudden occasion. It helps in saving time and energy of the consumers.
Less food wastage: Frozen meat ultimately causes lesser food wastage as it has extended shelf-life unlike the fresh food items that has to be consumed within a small time period before it starts deteriorating and becoming unfit for consumption. Consumers who have a habit of storing food portions for next time, often have to drop such foods in the garbage as it rot so early and become unappealing.
Money savings: Frozen meat leads to saving some amount of budget that a consumer spends on regular or sudden purchase of freshly butchered meat from the market. This money is saved if that consumer already have frozen meat in their pantry chiller.
Control of eating portion: Portion-controlled sizes age offered by frozen meals like frozen meat dishes. By means of this, it’s easier for consumers to keep their calorie intake and nutrient intake in check and eat healthy.
Nutrient Retention: Nutrients present in frozen meat and meat products are retained well compared to other preservative methods that are used to safeguard the nutritional value of meat. This can make frozen meat nutritionally better than the ones in which preservatives are utilised.
Colour Degradation: When meat is kept in frozen state, this might lead to colour degradation in the products and turn the colour from original bright red to paler or slightly darker meat upon thawing. This can be quite unappealing to the consumers and can be a leading factor for not purchasing this particular product from the stores.
Flavour Alteration: Meat that has been stored in frozen condition (frozen meat) can taste different from its original state, and develop off flavor. Exposure to freezing temperatures for a long duration can cause this unfavorable impact on the original flavor of the meat and alter it slightly. This again can be undesirable to the consumers who favour some particular meat product because of its taste.
Changes in Texture: In contrast to fresh meat, frozen meat might have difference in texture. When thawed, it might be mushy or tougher depending upon the lower temperatures it was subjected to. When touched the meat can feel softer or hard than when they were originally. This is another drastic change that can turn the consumers against such products as people are quite choosy when it comes to texture of their meat dishes.
Loss of Moisture: When meat and meat products are frozen, its moisture can be lost due to releasing of meat juices resulting in drying in the products. Often thawed meat like steaks have a pool of liquid around it because of the loss in moisture during freezing and thawing process. This can cause an undesirable effect of dryness in meat. When cooked, such type of meat can have different taste due to this phenomenon as well.
Quality Decline: Meat can experience an overall quality decline due to prolonged storage at froze state. Such type of storage can cause alterations in the original meat texture, flavour, and juiciness. This decline in quality parameter can turn the consumers away and pose threat to the frozen meat market.
Re-Freezing Quality Degradation: If meat is thawed and refrozen, it can undergo further decline in quality parameters. This reaction is due to cumulative effect of repetitive freezing after thawing of meat. When meat products are exposed to freezing temperatures repeatedly, there is loss in its quality resulting in the products turning drier and flavourless.
Freezer Burn: Meat and its products can experience freezer burn due to moisture loss, and fluctuation in freezing temperatures. This can lead to physical alteration in these products in the form of discoloured, dry patches on the surface. This can make frozen meat stand out from fresh meat products in terms of appearance and can negatively affect the consumers’ acceptability rate.
Protein Denaturation: Proteins present in meat can be denatured by freezing and thawing procedure. This can lead to the reduction of moisture holding capacity in meat and changes in texture. Consumers favourable of meat products due to its richness in protein content, might find this factor very disturbing.
Crystallization: Water droplets in meat can crystalize due to the crystallization process facilitated by freezing of meat, and can lead to the changes in appearance and texture. Water turns into ice crystals, thereby disturbing the some of the characteristics of meat.
Damage of cells: When meat is subjected to freezing temperatures and is frozen, ice crystals are formed which can damage the meat cells. This damage on cellular level can lead to less uniform meat texture and moisture retention.
Enzyme Inactivation: Enzymes present in meat can get deactivated partially by the freezing process. This phenomenon can drastically affect texture and flavour of meat upon thawing. This inactive nature of meat enzymes is yet another unfavourable change that can take place when meat is frozen.
Browning: Fluctuation in freezing temperatures aggravates browning process in meat products changing their usual colour of bright red to brown colour due to the enzymatic activity in this meat and meat products.
Conclusion: The above mentioned points are few affects that very low temperature exposure can cause on meat. Both positive and negative aspects of frozen meat is put forward for consumers to ponder upon. It is important for the consumers to be sure about the nature of meat they are involving in their dishes and what freezing can do to the meat.