Meat is a valuable nutritious food that if untreated will spoil within a few days. However, there
are a number of preservation techniques that can be used at a small scale to extend its shelf life
by several days, weeks or months. Some of these processing methods also alter the flavour and
texture of meat, which can increase its value when these products are sold. This Technical Brief
gives an overview of the types of cured meat products that are possible to produce at a small
scale of operation. It does not include sausages, burgers, pâtés and other ground meat products.
These are more difficult to produce at a small scale because of the higher costs of equipment
and the specialist technical knowledge required, or because they pose a greater risk of causing
Spoilage, food poisoning and preservation
Meat can support the growth of both bacteria and contaminating insects and parasites. It is a
low-acid food, and if meat is not properly processed or if it is contaminated after processing,
bacteria can spoil it and make it unacceptable for sale. Dangerous bacteria can also grow on the
meat and cause food poisoning. All types of meat processing therefore need careful control over
the processing conditions and good hygiene precautions to make sure that products are both safe
to eat and have the required shelf life. Processors must pay strict attention to hygiene and
sanitation throughout the processing and distribution of meat products. These precautions are
described below and also in Technical Brief: Hygiene and safety rules in food processing.
‘Curing’ is the treatment of meat with preservative chemicals that restrict or prevent the growth
of spoilage bacteria and food poisoning bacteria. It is used together with processes that use heat,
smoke or low temperatures to give the required shelf life of cured meats. The principles of
preservation of cured meats are:
1. The use of preservative chemicals: either salt, chemicals in smoke and/or sodium
2. Reducing the water content of meat by drying and/or smoking.
3. Reducing the temperature by chilling to around 5oC.
4. Heat from smoking - the effects of heat from the smoke and chemicals in the smoke
combine to preserve the meat. Smoke also adds distinctive and attractive flavours to
the meat, which can increase its value.
Curing is achieved by either rubbing salt and other preservative chemicals into the meat (salting)
or by soaking meat in a solution of these chemicals (brining). Depending on the process, the shelf
life of cured meats is increased by several days (e.g. bacon) to several months (e.g. dried meats).
Building and facilities required
It is important that a suitable room is used only for processing meat products. The room should
be hygienically designed and easily cleaned to prevent contamination of products by insects,
birds, rodents and micro-organisms. This requires attention to the design and construction
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