Longissmus dorsi loins were removed from Suffolk cross-breed lambs (4-9 months) and hoggets (15-20 months). The effect of package gas composition was investigated by packaging loins with gas mixtures containing 80:20:0, 60:20:20 and 60:40:0/O(2):CO(2):N(2) with a 2:1 headspace to meat volume ratio. The most effective gas mixture for prolonging shelf-life was used to study the effect of different headspace to meat volume ratios. Loins were packaged with a headspace to meat volume ratio of 2:1, 1.5:1 or 1:1. All modified atmosphere (MA) packs were held under refrigerated display conditions (4 °C, 616 lx) for 12 days. Loins were assessed for microbial, oxidative and colour stability and headspace composition every 3 days. The 80:20:0/O(2):CO(2):N(2) gas composition and the 2:1 headspace to meat volume ratio was the most effective packaging combination at maintaining and prolonging the attractive red colour of MA packaged lamb and hogget meat. 80:20:0/O(2):CO(2):N(2) resulted in significantly (p<0.01) higher Hunter a values in lamb. The 2:1 ratio gave higher visual assessment values in lamb and higher Hunter `a' values for hogget meat throughout the trial. The 2:1 ratio was the most effective at decreasing Pseudomonas and increasing the numbers of lactic acid bacteria in the total microbial load in both lamb and hogget meat. Lipid oxidation in lamb and hogget meat occurred at a slower comparative rate than discolouration or microbial growth and was not the major determinant of shelf-life. The 2:1 headspace to meat volume ratio was most effective at maintaining the initial gas mix in both lamb and hogget MA packs.
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