'Meat is Neat' -- professor of meat science harnesses power of the Web

October 20, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- The temptation, of course, is to simply dismiss Chris Raines as an odd-duck college professor. After all, who else would have a blog titled "Meat is Neat" and the Twitter handle, "I tweet meat"?

But that would be a mistake, because the extension meats specialist and assistant professor of meat science and technology in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences is a serious scientist on the cutting edge of food technology -- not some misguided meatball obsessed with obscure details about steaks, chops and tenderloins.
Raines researches factors that affect meat quality and helps meat processors -- large and small, national and local -- with the quality and safety of the food they produce.
"I have chosen to use social networking software over the Internet to get the word out because I feel like there is a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of false or incomplete information circulating about meat," he said. "By using blogs and Twitter, I am trying to reach a younger population outside of agricultural circles that we may otherwise miss with our educational efforts in Penn State Cooperative Extension."
Raines has done research you can sink your teeth into on using carbon monoxide in packaging meat to preserve color, extend shelf life and slow spoilage. A blog entry he posted recently on the subject, titled "What a Gas! Packaging Meat in Carbon Monoxide," is typical of his efforts to inform about meat.
"Packaging meat in carbon monoxide (CO) has its perks, yet it is likely that public sentiment toward packaging fresh meat in carbon monoxide is anything but positive, even though the level of CO is miniscule," he wrote. "Researchers have found the use of CO in fresh-meat packaging to be an effective way to prolong the meat's shelf-life before its microbial and sensory quality deteriorates."
"When meat is packaged for display in retail self-serve cases, the atmosphere within the actual package can be altered to minimize oxidative deterioration, retard microbial growth and improve product appearance."
Each year, according to Raines, retailers throw away a lot of good ground beef and other meats because they just don't look good. He believes that the retail cost of meat could be reduced if carbon monoxide was used in packaging. "Less meat would need to be produced because less would be tossed out and wasted," he wrote in his blog. "I think these are valid points in defending the use of CO."
The "Meat is Neat" blog follows Raines' experiences and thoughts about meat as food -- where it comes from, how it's produced, how people consume it and the health implications of it. Some entries are highly technical, and others are total stream of consciousness. Some posts address hot-button topics facing meat today, while others address long-term ideas or speculative ideas about meat in the future.
In a recent blog entry titled "Burgeoning Questions about Beef, and the Questions They Raise" Raines examines the continuing controversy over food safety, especially as it pertains to meat.
"I have paid special attention to the popular press' recent hammering of ground beef," he wrote. "The U.S. ground beef production cycle and U.S. meat-inspection system have been heavily questioned due to the inability of the meat industry to completely eliminate E. coli O157:H7 -- which may be next to impossible to do."
"I’ve kept quiet on this to think about what's going on here. But I still have to wonder why food-safety inspection is so often synonymous with meat inspection. Why is beef getting the bad rap? Why not leafy greens -- or any of the raw fruits and vegetables we consume, which are also vectors for foodborne illness?
"Why do we think life is so pure as to expect sterile raw foods? Why are food-safety expectations different among food types?"
If you, too, think meat is neat, and would like to read Chris Raines' blog about meat science and muscle foods, go to http://meatisneat.wordpress.com/ online. Or, if you want to discuss issues involving meat, ask questions or follow him on Twitter, send him an e-mail at craines@psu.edu.
  • Chris Raines with two steaks. The top one was packaged with a very small mount of carbon monoxide in the package; the bottom one was not.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010