The Science Behind Meat Testing

The Science Behind Meat Testing

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The backyard barbeque is an art. But that meat is academic.

Behind closed doors, we found food science.

"We're at the University of Florida Research and Development," introduces Larry Eubanks, a research coordinator.

Most consumers will never see this lab.

"They have no clue," says Dwain Johnson, Ph.D., an animal science professor.

Yet, the lab has a direct impact on the meat we eat.

"This is our research kitchen," explains Eubanks.

First on the menu, "consumer evaluation," also known as taste tests.

"You're eating a product they made last week. A summer sausage product," Eubanks explains.

Here's the routine: testers file into darkened cubicles, while scientists spread samples onto simple paper plates and slide them through a window. The lights dim so participants' eyes don't sway them. Only the panel's tongues do the talking.

"Do you like it or do you dislike it? it's that simple. It's their preference, is all it is," says Eubanks.

Our herd mentality in taste tells ranchers which breeds to raise.

"A lot of the work we do here is looking at different breeds of cattle," explains Eubanks.

Downstairs, sits a university butcher shop.

"This is another classroom, essentially," says Ryan Dijkhuis, a meat science student.

Ryan, a grad student, inspects sides of beef.

"Controlled decay," as Ryan calls it.

We can't name names, but the high standards set here are sought after by well-known food companies.

"Sometimes people will send their product to us," says Ryan.

When they do, select cuts wind up in a lab where Ryan bores a hole.

"I'm kind of going in at a 45 degree angle," says Ryan.

He literally probes for the perfect tenderness.

"That's what we'd like to find," says Ryan.

Each tiny cylinder of steak is placed into a one-of-a kind instrument. A V-shaped blade slices a Grade-A filet, and measures the exact force it takes to chew it.

"Really what your teeth would be doing, by biting," Ryan explains.

It's an objective test, helping ensure meat buyers get what they're paying for.

"Get a real value for their money, we're trying to help them do that," says Dr. Dwain Johnson. Doctor Dwain Johnson's team is re-examining centuries of butchering.

Just a few years ago the scientists here transformed a cut that was traditionally relegated to ground beef into what's now the flat iron steak. That flat iron steak scientists "discovered" has taken off. Ranked fifth among the most popular cuts of beef.

"You're having an impact on the here and now. Not some abstract thing that's going to happen 10 15 years from now," says the professor for our dinner plate.

Doctor Johnson says meat scientists are striving to make the most of every animal we eat. The less waste there is, the lower our price per pound should be.

"It put dollars in people's pockets," says Dr. Johnson.

When something new appears in the market, perhaps it started here with meat scientists.

"Someone had to come up with that," says Ryan, "texture, flavor, and general acceptability."

The food scientists aim for blockbuster flavor, yet work comfortably backstage.

"If we're under the radar that's fine," says Dr. Johnson.

Meat, under the microscope. Our carnivorous appetite is something serious.

"We have a lot of fun doing it," says Eubanks.

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