A recent Cleaner Label survey of consumer attitudes in the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions on the subject of safety, health, and the environment found that the top six clean label concerns in these geographic areas are related to food safety.
Consumers in every region of the world, particularly Australia and New Zealand, Southeast Asia (Thailand, Malaysia), Japan and South Korea, consider food safety a priority.
“This is why clean label meat products with fewer chemical-sounding names on the ingredients list are increasingly viewed favorably”.
“However, replacing the food safety functionality of traditional artificial preservatives with consumer-friendly alternatives is a complex and multi-faceted challenge that requires a high level of expertise.”
Throughout the US’s Food Safety Month this September, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) reminds consumers to think about health and safety in the kitchen.
“My vision for food safety includes enhancing and emphasizing consumer education,” says Mindy Brashears, undersecretary for food safety at USDA. “Consumers play a vital role in reducing foodborne illness – and by providing scientifically accurate and effective food safety information, we can help empower them to adopt and practice safe food handling behaviors in their own homes.”
Consumers should follow four simple steps for food safety – clean, separate, cook and chill. “Our research has shown that handwashing and preventing cross-contamination are two food safety steps that consumers sometimes struggle with,” adds Paul Kiecker, an FSIS administrator.
According to Nevin, around the world, food safety is top of mind. “Nowhere is this more evident than in meat production, where food safety is subject to widespread concerns about health and cost,” he stresses.
Clean label preservation of meat
Clean label meat means using simple ingredients for safekeeping that consumers can recognize as natural sources, including avoiding synthetic, chemical alternatives.
Globally, meat is ranked as the top category in which consumers seek to remove artificial chemical ingredients and look for “free-from” claims on product labels, says Nevin.
“In particular, nitrates and nitrites, traditionally used as meat preservatives, are increasingly viewed as ‘no-no’ ingredients; instead, these consumers are seeking out meat that contains no artificial preservatives,” he continues.
Under restrictions related to the pandemic, consumers have more time on their hands to read ingredient labels and research products & consumer demand will continue to drive the “secular transition” of meat products away from chemical preservatives and toward clean label protection.
Building blocks for better shelf life
Processed meats that are pre-cooked and sold refrigerated, such as lunch meats, hot dogs, sausages, chicken balls, and so on, are leading the meat sector’s clean label trend in Asia Pacific (APAC).
These consumer-friendly ingredients, such as the company’s Durafresh line, are building blocks for better shelf life, flavor and texture in meat application, Nevin highlights.
“The industry is often accustomed to ‘building back’ from the taste of some synthetic preservative solutions, so a more neutral starting point means fewer additions needed to perfect the product’s flavor,” explains Nevin.
“Natural smoke flavors, for instance, have been a popular addition in meat products for many years. We work closely with our technical experts to leverage our natural smoke and grill flavors, distilling out targeted components to bring out the best taste in your product over its shelf life,” Nevin notes.
Overcoming formulation challenges
The first challenge concerning meat products is always food safety and shelf life.
“Keeping food safe is much more than just preventing spoilage: it involves protecting flavor, texture and color, as well as maintaining the overall quality of a final product over its shelf life,” explains Nevin.
“For example, APAC’s added challenge is the exceptionally hot climate of many countries that intensifies microbial growth in meat products. Moreover, many countries in APAC have limited cold supply chains. Together, these factors exacerbate the food safety challenges and lead to higher food wastage,” he continues.
The meaning of clean label in APAC is centered around “naturalness” (less processing, and removal of chemicals and preservatives), health (sodium, sugar and fat reduction), and food safety and security.
Understanding and adhering to local regulations is also a critical factor. “Our global regulatory footprint ensures that we understand local food safety regulations as we partner with our customers to ensure full compliance in the regions in which they operate,” Nevin concludes.