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Quality assurance and pork

By Dr Pieter Grimbeek, veterinarian and pig consultant
The article below is a summary of Dr Grimbeek’s introductory talk on quality assurance and pork at the information day.Goals of food quality assurance

  • Safe food production and naturally.
  • Safe pork production.

Three areas to focus on

  • Pigmeat hygiene.
  • Pigmeat quality improvement program.
  • Pigmeat residues program.

For the purpose of this article we will concentrate on the Pigmeat Quality Improvement program.
Even with changing attitudes and increased knowledge about food safety and other aspects it is pork quality that will ultimately determine consumer acceptance.
The following guidelines are key requirements to ensure that we provide pork with consistent good visual appeal and eating and keeping qualities.
Meat quality means different things to different people
A Lacoste, PIC Day South Africa Feb 2001
For the consumer it means:

  • Eating quality – taste, color, cooking loss, smell.
  • Security – no prohibitive substances.
  • Healthy meat – lean, little fat, healthy fat.
  • Service – convenient food shelf life.
  • Ethical quality – animal welfare, friendly production.

For the retailer it means:

  • Visual meat quality – color, drip loss, marbling.
  • Shelf life.
  • Traceability guarantee.
  • Trust of supplier.

How do we fulfill these requirements?
In this specific area ie pork quality, there is a multi-disciplined production line.
Transport to abattoir

  • Limit to 18 hours interval between last feed and slaughter.
  • Ensure proper vehicles.
  • Avoid excessive inclination of ramps at loading.
  • Aim to maintain pigs in stable social groups.
  • Minimize transport-time to the abattoir.
  • Avoid the use of electrical prodders.
  • Build good corridors or races.

Abattoir Lairage

  • Avoid ramps at unloading.
  • Unload pigs promptly.
  • Maintain pigs in social groups.
  • Use water sprinklers in hot weather.
  • Keep pigs in lairage for at least 1 hour prior to slaughter.
  • Provide a good race to the electrical stunner so as not to have to goad the pigs.

Slaughter line

  • The use of modern high voltage electrical stimulation systems (HVES) are encouraged.
  • Alternatively adequate maturation periods for the meat are suggested.


  • Prevent muscle temperature failing below 10°C for the first 10 hours after stunning unless HVES has been applied
  • Maintain the cold chain from carcass to prepared cuts at 0°C to + 4°C

Maturation Time

  • The interval from slaughter to resale must be at least:
    – Legs – four days.
    – Loins (bone in) – seven days.
    – Loins (bone out) – twelve days.

Carcass/Cut Selection

  • Exclude carcasses/cuts with bruises.
  • Limit P2 fat depth levels to a minimum of 8mm. There is no upper limit, but it is expected that the excess fat be trimmed.
  • Ensure good visual appeal – avoid meat which is PSE, DFD or has blood splashing.


  • Label primal packs (boxes or individual primals) with:
    – Name and address or code of supplier.
    – Production description and weight.
    – Slaughter date and packaging date.
  • Label retail packs to provide:
    – Storing information.
    – Cooking instructions.
    – Service and recipe advice.
    – Nutritional information.
    – Traceability.
  • Ensure staff has all info available if carcass are freshly cut.


  • Aim for 70 – 80 °C in the center of all grilled and roasted cuts.
  • The upper part of this range gives more flavoursome pork, but tends to make it drier and less tender.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The impact of genetics on pork quality is profound.
Four measurements of good meat quality have been identified, they are:

  • color,
  • ultimate pH,
  • water holding capacity
  • and intramuscular fat.
  • Large breeding companies spend a great deal of money in identifying breeding animals which meet the demands of the above traits.

What can the producer do to ensure good quality pork?

  • It is important to feed ad lib from 30kg to slaughter.
  • Restricted feeding reduces the amount of intramuscular fat and makes meat tougher.
  • Fast lean growth improves meat tenderness.
  • The use of boars with good ADG and FCR attributes will aid tenderness.
  • Two major genes with effects on carcass, meat and eating quality traits have been identified:
  • Napole (RN) gene.
  • Halothone (HAL)gene.
  • By selecting for the RN gene and against the HAL gene the reduction of to low a carcass pH post slaughter and the elimination of the incidence of PSE and DFD carcasses are ensured.

The biggest problem in the abattoir is PSE meat (15 to 33%).
To some segments of our industry quality is simply “lean”.
We as producers are paid on this single attribute, ie lean % and fat thickness, coupled to a carcass mass and here and there a so called subjective conformation measurement.
It is basically on lean % and kilograms of meat that we earn our keep.
To others it is much more.
How do your pigs perform?
Loin color is evaluated using a 5 point scale with a score of 1, meaning the pork is light and pale and 5 designating a dark red muscle color.
An objective measurement is taken using an instrument called the Minolta chromameter.
Pork colour
The Minolta value measures light reflectance of the loin muscle.
Consumers generally prefer a medium to darker colored meat.
Ultimate pH

  • This measure of the acidity of the loin muscle is taken 24 hours after slaughter using a pH meter
  • Higher pH is associated with a low drip loss, a darker color, more firmness and an increased tenderness of the loin chop
  • A low pH the opposite

Water Holding Capacity (WHC)

  • This is the ability of the meat to retain its water during cutting, heating, grinding and pressing.
  • This measurement is estimated using the Kauffman filter paper method where filter paper is allowed to absorb moisture on the loin surface.
  • The paper is weighed, before and after, and an association is determined. Low numbers are desirable.

Intramuscular Fat (IMF)

  • This lipid measurement is determined in a laboratory.
  • This trait is extremely important for consumer satisfaction with pork.
  • Sensory satisfaction improves with higher levels of IMF.
  • A minimum of 2% IMF is needed to ensure acceptance.

Marbling of pork
Nutritional manipulation

  • The use of fishmeal and recently carcass and bonemeal of farm animal mammalian origin is prohibited by certain QA schemes in European countries in finished feeds.
  • Finisher feeds should contain at least 100IU/kg of Vit E as this reduces drip loss.
  • Magnesium supplementation. It improves pork quality, colour and fluid loss.
  • No swill feeding is allowed.
  • 50% Duroc genes are incorporated in terminal growers to improve tenderness and juiciness.
  • n-3 fatty acids are incorporated in diets so as to improve and promote healthier human diets.
  • There are certain economic constraints in place to the above mentioned.
  • From the abattoir/packers perspective his first duty is:
  • to keep his customer happy;
  • to keep his slaughter line full (so as to minimize fixed costs);
  • to maximize the percentage lean in the carcass while optimizing meat quality aspects;
  • and to enhance uniformity while paying premiums for the desired carcasses.
  • The primary producer will in turn be aware that:
  • He needs someone to always buy the animals he has produced
  • It is his duty to convince the packer that he deserves a premium for all his efforts to produce quality pork

Breeders cannot continue spending time, effort and quality research in meat traits if they are not rewarded for it.
In summary

  • Producers should:
    – Follow several steps to implement the best genetic system for producing quality pork
    – Discuss ways to nutritionally ensure quality pork with their consultant nutritionist
    – Liaise with their abattoir/packers for justifiable rewards for their efforts.
    – The most important factor that will drive improvements in pork quality will be value based marketing — payment for quality

It takes patience to see tomorrow’s returns from today’s investment.
(Dale Miller and Joe Luther – National Hog Farmer, May 2000)
“If you look at the tray packs of Perdue or Tyson chicken, one looks just like the next, now look at the bacon case. Packages are torn open.
There’s upheaval as people are looking for a pound of bacon that looks better than another.
There is only one way to get consistency — that’s to have common genetics, to feed the animals the same way and to process them the same way”.
In the year 2010 the pig industry might look back in amazement to the year 2003 and realise how its perception and definition of quality has changed.
The industry will be measuring quality and the variation in quality should (will) be minimal.
There will be precise definitions of critical control points between conception and consumption which will influence quality using a ‘palatability analysis” approach.
Nutritious healthy pork produced under clean, green conditions will be in demand.
Continuous advancements in the manipulation of genetics, nutrition and pre-slaughtering handling will be maintained.

  • Blueprint for Quality British Pork – MLC
  • Walter Scharlach, nutritional aspects
  • Strategies to improve Pork Quality, ADSA Dec 1997

Consistent muscle quality should be the goal of all segments of the industry.

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