Link: reducing meat waste



This project was divided into five objectives which sought to define some of the meat quality parameters that need to be optimised to ensure optimum shelf life of beef and lamb during retail display so that it is consumed and not wasted. It also looked at an alternative packaging system to modified atmospheres (MA), vacuum skin packing (VSP), which will potentially extend the retail display life of meat. We produced data from several experiments which illustrated how ageing meat for longer, as practiced by industry to improve tenderness and flavour, will reduce the subsequent retail display life. This was shown for both rump and sirloin cuts. The gas to meat ratio in MA packs can be reduced but the proportion of oxygen in the gas mix cannot. This would allow packers to pack meat in smaller packs provided the meat does not touch the pack lid. Within two of the objectives we showed that beef rump and lamb leg steak muscle shelf life is very much dependent upon vitamin E concentration. In winter lamb finishing systems, roots and concentrates do not supply sufficient vitamin E to give a colour shelf life sufficient to give a one week retail display and helps to explain the poorer retail life experienced by some retailers during the winter. Contrary to our hypothesis, too slow cooling which will allow the pH in some carcasses to fall below 6 before the carcass has cooled below 35ºC, and thus cause heat shortening, is not detrimental to colour shelf life. VSP can be used to extend the shelf life of meat, up to 21 days in some instances, but this is currently limited to 10d on FSA concerns over C. botulinum. An attempt to produce a more accurate assessment of the amount of beef and lamb wasted between packing and sale was only partially successful and relied upon inputs from WRAP and an Eblex sponsored piece of work by CranfieldUniversity. This area requires further study. Whilst the amount of waste seems proportionally small, at 2% of production this is a significant volume and any reduction in this waste will help the desired reduction in emissions from meat production.


Planned Activity:

The University of Bristol presented three papers at BSAS, Nottingham, April 2011, on the day allocated for Industry participation. They will also present at an Eblex symposium in September 2012 and presented a paper on the results of the project at the Langford Food Industry Conference in June 2012. Data from the project will be used to support updates of EBLEX materials. This will emphasise the need to balance the benefits of meat ageing against the loss of retail colour shelf life and the benefits of VSP.


Beef & Lamb
Project code:
01 April 2009 - 31 March 2011
AHDB Beef & Lamb, Defra, ASDA, ABP Doncaster, Sealed Air Limited, Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), Quality Meat Scotland
AHDB sector cost:
Total project value:
Project leader:
University of Bristol (DFAS)


74502 Final Report Dec 2011 74502 Effects of Losses in the meat chain Final Report Dec 2011

About this project

The Problem:

Considerable amounts of fresh beef and lamb meat are discarded before sale, and in the home, because of discolouration. WRAP (2008) estimated that 161,000 tonnes of meat and fish was wasted in the home, fourth in the list by volume, but first by value, and that there are 5.2 million tonnes of food related packaging waste. They also estimate that retailer back of store‘ waste is 1.6 million tonnes of food per annum and that each tonne of waste is equivalent to 4.5 tonnes of carbon. There are no comparable figures for in-store meat waste but this is likely to be considerable (in the order of 7000 tonnes per annum), equating to about 245,000 tonnes of carbon. There are several reasons why waste can arise, which have been addressed by this project. The key to waste reduction is better control of supply chain processes, from production to consumer, optimising key elements both for the meat itself, and associated packaging, but especially for the meat. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) calculations show that packaging has a much smaller carbon footprint than the material which it carries, particularly for red meats.


Project Aims:

This project investigated different packaging technologies for fresh beef and lamb with the aim of reducing the use of plastic and CO2 (as a packaging gas) and improving product quality. Ways to reduce oxidative spoilage during production and processing were investigated. Estimates of current meat wastage and plastics use have been evaluated.



  1. Calculate waste in beef and lamb supply chains through audits of the meat supply chain
  2. Reducing pack size by changing gas: meat ratio and changing the concentration of gases
  3. Investigate alternatives to modified atmosphere packs to reduce plastic waste and improve meat quality
  4. Investigate factors affecting meat oxidation during processing
  5. Investigate the effects of dietary Vitamin E and selenium on oxidation in sheepmeat
  6. Dissemination through guidelines, industry workshops, the Langford Food Industry Conference and publication in scientific journals and as presentations at the International Congress of Meat Science and Technology, the British Society of Animal Science and through articles in Trade Journals