Consistency key in addressing salt levels in bacon
Interfood Technology is highlighting the importance of accurate brine treatment systems for bacon as the industry continues to come to terms with an increased focus on reducing salt content.
While the media column inches regarding salt reduction have been overtaken somewhat by the war on sugar, heightened consumer awareness of healthier eating means that the issue has not gone away.
A report entitled ‘Salt Content of Bacon’ published by ‘Action on Salt’ in January 2020, has reignited the debate. It investigated the salt content of all bacon products available from ten of the UK’s major retailers – some 171 products in total – categorising the products in terms of the salt content per 100g and what that equates to in two rashers.
James Radcliffe is the divisional manager of Interfood’s curing to clipping division said in an era when controlling the amount of salt in bacon products has never been more important, technology has a vital role to play.
He said: “Many processors are still mixing in a stainless steel or plastic bin with a shovel or using a motorised immersion system. Others have adopted the venturi mixing system which is very effective but needs to be paired with accurate temperature control, both of the incoming water and the glycol jacket applied to the mixer. While this is not as important for simple salt brines that can be mixed in about five minutes, for more complex mixes involving functional powders like starch, the longer mixing times increase the heat input, especially when combined with a shear pump.
“Many UK bacon producers inject water into bacon as it provides a solution to allow for even distribution of curing salts (principally sodium chloride) to be added to the meat. The water being used is itself also a contributor to the equation – a processor needs to know a number of things, including where it comes from, pH levels, is it treated by UV, has it been filtered and is it pre-cooled prior to storage in a buffer tank.
“In terms of brine transfer, best practice is to pump from the mixer directly to the injector or tumbler rather than decanting into bins which are then moved by pallet trucks – a practice still widely adopted in bacon processing facilities. Also key to accurate salt levels is the injector which needs to achieve the desired pump percentage. This accuracy is particularly relevant in lower levels of less than 10%. Important factors include consistency of raw material, the method of loading the injector, needle design, positive movement of the product, temperature control and filtration.
“Automating the brine preparation and injection process from start to finish provides the all-important consistency to ensure that the salt content required is achieved and maintained. This will only become more of a focus as the trend towards lower salt levels intensifies: as the proportion of brine added to bacon lowers, so the margins of error become tighter. The difference between bacon/ham and pork is very fine at low levels and easy to get wrong.”
The bacon industry in the UK is valued at over £900 million, with some 150,000 tonnes purchased annually.1
Interfood is the representative in the UK and Eire for the Henneken range of brine & marinade preparation systems and injectors.