Texas Tech University

Researchers Receive USDA Grant to Study Effects of Aging on Beef

George Watson

August 22, 2019


Dale Woerner will lead a group evaluating the use of new mass spectrometry technology to determine tenderness, flavor and juiciness of beef in real time.

Americans who love their beef are always searching for the most tender, tastiest and juiciest cut of meat they can find. And beef producers are constantly striving to give consumers what they want.

One of the most time-honored and effective ways of doing so is aging beef to bring out as much flavor and tenderness as possible. But aging the beef can be tricky, and research has shown that over-aging beef can bring about compositional changes that affects beef flavor, and not in a good way.

Recently, a new technology has been developed that can help avoid over-aging. Rapid Evaporative Ionization Mass Spectrometry (REIMS) utilizes metabolomics – the large-scale study of small molecules, called metabolites, within cells, biofluids, tissues or organisms – to identify compositional differences in beef. The goal is to predict beef sensory performance to determine the exact peak of beef aging.

But because it is a novel technology, its effectiveness hasn't been definitively determined. A group of researchers in the Texas Tech University College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources (CASNR), in collaboration with researchers at Colorado State University and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Agricultural Research Service (ARS), is taking on that task.

Backed by a $294,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service, Dale Woerner, an associate professor and the Cargill Endowed Professor in Meat Science in the Department of Animal & Food Sciences (AFS), is leading this research project.

Determining the proper aging time for meat has been tricky. Resarchers at Texas Tech are hoping to increase that accuracy in real time.

Their goal is to develop REIMS as a real-time method for classifying the quality of beef products by evaluating REIMS' ability to predict beef sensory and tenderness, identify changes in beef flavor and tenderness as it ages and characterize the effect of extended aging on palatability.

"We are very excited to collaborate on this effort aimed at discovering the potential of a very unique technology to differentiate the quality of beef products," Woerner said. "This technology, among others, is the future of differentiating quality and safety attributes of agricultural products intended for food."

Collaborating with Woerner on the project are assistant professor Jerrad Legako, Mark Miller, a professor and San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo Chair in Meat Science, and professor Chance Brooks, all part of AFS and the International Center for Food Industry Excellence (ICFIE) at Texas Tech. The study also is supported by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

REIMS using time-of-flight mass spectrometry to provide in-situ, molecularly resolved information in real time by ionizing biological samples without having to prepare the sample for examination. Utilizing both domestic and exported beef samples with a wide variety of aging days, researchers will use REIMS to repeatedly measure beef flavor, tenderness and juiciness.

The then will develop prediction models, including multiple machine-learning processes, in an attempt to understand the ability of REIMS to measure and predict these changes depending on the time the beef has aged. If successful, this would allow these characteristics, so important to beef consumers, to be predicted in real time and produce optimum cuts of meat in regards to tenderness, flavor and juiciness.