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The biochemical and physical effects of electrical stimulation on beef and sheep meat tenderness

Hwang, I.H., Devine, C.E., Hopkins, D.L.
Meat science 2003 v.65 no.2 pp. 677-691
beef, beef quality, meat tenderness, shear strength, beef carcasses, lamb carcasses, electrical treatment, electric current, rigor mortis, muscle contraction, temperature, cooling, pH, structural proteins, proteolysis, protein degradation, enzyme activity, exchangeable calcium, sarcomeres, ultrastructure, lamb meat
Application of electrical stimulation in the sheep and beef processing industry has been erratic around the world and this may reflect an incomplete knowledge of how to optimise the technology. Although it is well established that stimulation increases the rate of post-mortem glycolysis, other biochemical and biophysical effects have been implicated with the use of this technology. This review seeks to examine the current theories about the effect of stimulation on post-mortem muscle. The classical view that stimulation prevents muscle from shortening excessively during rigor development has been expanded to include the possibility that it also results in physical disruption of muscle structure. The interaction of these effects with the acceleration of the rate of proteolysis through activation of the calpain protease system has not been comprehensively reviewed in the past. Thus there are two mechanisms which could explain the effect of stimulation on tenderisation, reduced 'cold-induced' shortening and alteration of protein structure. A secondary effect is the enhancement of the rate of proteolysis stimulated by release of Ca2+ at a higher temperature. As a result of this review we highlight several areas that may prove fruitful for further research. The challenge for further development of electrical stimulation systems is optimisation of the activation of the enzyme systems in parallel with manipulation of chilling regimes so as to ensure rigor mortis is achieved at temperatures which minimise shortening. These optimal temperatures largely established at a fixed incubation temperature for detached muscle may be different when measured in intact carcasses. The potential of regional stimulation of sections of the carcass to achieve this outcome is worthy of study given the different fibre composition of muscles and temperature gradients. In addition, to ensure that appropriate amounts of energy are applied to individual carcasses, development of self-response stimulation units, which are able to determine carcass resistance and apply appropriate durations or strengths of stimulation is worthy of future research. This would lead to more effective electrical stimulation practices.