Electronic device standards to yield choicer chop

MARCH 17--Increasingly, meat processors use electronic devices and equipment--such as optical probes, ultrasonic sensors, and digital cameras--to evaluate critical fat-to-meat ratios.

MARCH 17--Choosing the best chops, steaks, or other fresh meat products is a tough job. It's a delicate balancing of leanness, juiciness, taste, marbling, and more. Increasingly, meat processors use electronic devices and equipment--such as optical probes, ultrasonic sensors, and digital cameras--to evaluate critical fat-to-meat ratios.

In 2003, for instance, electronic devices determined pricing for more than 80% of the almost $7.5 billion worth of swine processed in the United States. Multiple devices, as well as different methods for evaluating results can, however, produce different data.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has joined meat-industry counterparts, producers, device manufacturers, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) to standardize the measuring process for pork, beef and, eventually, poultry. In February, ASTM committees, representing all concerned parties, approved the first two of four draft standards to cover key aspects of the electronic methods used to determine the value of live animals, carcasses, and individual cuts. The approved standards outline requirements for installation, operator training, operation, verification, inspection, maintenance, design and construction of devices or systems.

The remaining two standards, expected to be approved in the spring of 2004, cover calibration, accuracy, and standardized equations for pricing meat. The final standards are expected to be incorporated into new USDA regulations.

Richard Suiter, NIST weights and measures coordinator and chair for an ASTM subcommittee, says, "The new standards will increase consistency and confidence in the measurements across technologies and will benefit everyone-equipment manufacturers, producers, packers and consumers."

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