“I met a guy who had an interesting job. He was a meat cutter, or a meat slicer, something like that. I probably butchered his job title.
” ― Jarod Kintz
Typically after a long week, that last thing I want it to be seated next to a chatty Cathy on the on the plane, frankly because I’m usually beat and just want to nap. Well, as my parents always said, “boy you don’t always get what you want” this seems to hold true when I want to nap on the plane.
The typical conversation starts out pretty low key with the basic, “where are you headed” to “where are you from” which moves quickly to the awkward question “what do you do?” THIS is when we start playing the childhood game 20 questions!
The typical responses include but are not limited too;
“You’re a meat what?” (Cue awkward facial expression)
“What exactly does a meat scientist do?”
“You must work for the USDA or government, right?”
“There’s a science about meat?”
“You must know what hormones “they’re” pumping into our chicken?”
“Why does Wal-Mart dye their meat red?”
This is where the typical conversation takes off and usually lasts for the duration of our journey, so it’s usually my cue to settle in for an education lesson. Since most people have no clue what Meat Science is, I felt it very fitting to tackle a few of these questions in order to shed a bit of light on the field of study.
You’re a meat what?
That’s right folks, I’m a meat scientist. Believe it or not, there are actually quite a few of us out there. To be fair, it wasn’t until I ventured to Oklahoma State for a semester during my undergrad career that I realized meat science was actually a “thing”. Not only were there “meat scientists” running around, I could actually take meat science classes! Of course I thought this was the greatest thing since sliced bread! I didn’t even give the wagon time to stop before I jumped on.
After jumping on the band wagon, I was exposed to a world I hardly knew existed. The amount of research that is conducted on a product before it reaches the plates of the consumer is amazing. Meat scientists strive to not only develop tasty new products, but also improve existing favorites that are already on the market.
This research encompasses everything from the effects of feeding different types of grain to animals to improve meat quality to improving livestock genetics that will increase feed conversion (conversion of feed to muscle) and shelf life. In addition, processing techniques involving marination, slicing, and stuffing (as in stuffing sausage and deli meats into casings) are just a few processes studied to aid in the development of new and current products.
Before a single product is released to the public for consumption, factors such as taste, texture, color, packaging, microbial counts, nutritional requirements and product labels are perfected. Each attribute is thoroughly examined in its own manner by scientists who improve products until all requirements are met. After this process has taken place it must be approved by the government.
That’s it right?
Not quite. Product testing is next on the list. We can’t sell a product that doesn’t meet the needs of our customer. Each product is evaluated (tasted) by a group of trained specialists (usually in-house) first. Once the product clears the initial in-house taste tests it is brought to the customer. Typically, various collections of individuals are brought in to taste and evaluate the product. If the product passes customer taste panels the product can then be sent to market. I could go into intense detail but that would take WAY too long. This is just the short and sweet version (remember, I’m on a plane, so I’m limited on time). This whole process can exceed a year from the birth of an idea to market.
You must work for the government right?
Nope sure don’t. I work for an independent company out of New York. We make meat processing equipment. Actually every large meat processing company such as Tyson, Perdue and Cargill have their own meat scientists.
“So you must know what hormones “they’re” pumping into our chicken?”
No hormones are pumped into your chicken, or fed to your chicken for that matter. This is illegal. The reason your poultry cuts are so much larger than they were ten years ago is because of selective breeding. Scientists use different breeds of chicken and select various traits to breed for (such as larger/plumper breast). This is very similar to how the English bulldog was developed.
Though I don’t always get to all of the questions that arise on a typical plane ride, I typically end with this; “Meat scientists are passionate individuals who strive to uphold the integrity and safety of the food industry to satisfy our consumers.”
The following link is to a short video that takes you behind the scenes at the University of Florida meat lab.
Related Links and additional meat science info