Back to the Basics: pH in Meat and Poultry Products

The Basics of pH in Meat and Poultry Processing

Mark Frenzel PhD JRW Regional Sales Manager Texas

Many of us have heard that monitoring and/or controlling the pH of meat and poultry products is important, but sometimes that is where the conversation ends.

Understanding the importance of pH in meat and poultry can provide us with a better picture of how to improve the overall quality of the products we produce.

At the simplest level, pH impacts two main things in the product:

  1. Water holding capacity (WHC)

    • AKA- yield, moisture retention, etc.
  2. Shelf life

    • Mainly for products that are sold fresh.

Both above terms translate directly to the profitability of the product.

  • Retaining more moisture means lower input costs and/or more pounds of product sold.
  • Issues achieving the desired shelf life can result in product being returned and/or credited, and the potential for lost business if the problem persists.

pH and WHC

pH is defined, at a basic level, as the hydrogen ion concentration of a given system. pH ranges from the most acidic to the most basic; 1-14. A pH of 7 is neutral. Normal meat systems have a pH of 5.6-6.0. In a given system, there is a point at which the + and – charges are equal; this is called the isoelectric point. For meat, the isoelectric point is around 5.1-5.2. At this pH, the meat system is not able to retain any additional water, and it can even start to purge some of its natural moisture. For meat products to retain and pick up additional moisture, the pH should be at or above 5.6. If possible, periodically check the pH of your incoming raw materials.

If the pH is routinely below 5.5, you might want to talk with your meat supplier about the quality of the meat source.

Examples of ingredients that may help to buffer the pH of meat systems are carbonates, bicarbonates, phosphates, and others. These ingredients help to keep the pH at a level that is suitable for holding moisture. Some brines or marinades may contain ingredients that slightly lower the pH of the meat. This can lead to poor retention of the brine/marinade that is being used, and potentially lower yields at the time of cooking.

pH and Shelf life

Microbiological spoilage can be a major reason for reduced shelf life. Most bacteria prefer an environment with a pH that is near neutral (7.0). When food product’s pH rises above 6.0, the risk of bacterial growth also begins to rise. The elevated pH, along with the high level of moisture being retained can be a perfect environment for the growth of bacteria if there is not an antimicrobial compound present. Processors must be aware of the type of environment that they are creating and use antimicrobial ingredients or other measures to prevent the growth of microorganisms.

Your ingredient supplier can work with your specific product and determine if the pH of the system is optimized for product quality. 

Need an experienced ingredient supplier, technical expertise, or assistance with the pH in your meat and poultry or any other functional food ingredients? At JRW, we're here to help. Contact us here for more info.

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