4 April 1997

High vitamin E diet is good news for beefs shelf life

The latest in livestock research was on offer at the British Society of Animal Science annual meeting held in Scarborough, Yorks. Emma Penny and Jonathan Riley report

MEAT from cattle offered diets containing high vitamin E and linseed could have a longer shelf life and contain less saturated fat.

Bristol Universitys Jeff Wood explained that vitamin E counteracts the effect of oxygen, which causes discolouration in packed meat.

"This is a particular problem for beef because consumers discard discoloured beef, even though it may be quite safe to eat," said Dr Wood. Oxidation, therefore, limits shelf life to about six days and means expensive packaging is needed to slow down the process.

But trials involving the University of Bristol, Genuss Warren Farm and IGERs North Wyke research station show that shelf life can be extended by two days when cattle are fed vitamin E at about 1000mg a day for 100 days up to slaughter.

"This would cost an extra £3.50 a head but would make the product far more attractive to the supermarkets," he said.

Vitamin E also reduces the effect that oxygen has on meat fat. "When oxygen comes into contact with unsaturated fat it causes the fat to taste rancid. But when vitamin E is fed to growing cattle this effect is reduced.

"This will be of increasing value because rations including linseed are being developed to increase the proportion of unsaturated fat in beef to make it a healthier food.

"Trials by Bristol and IGER have shown that when concentrates containing 22% linseed were offered to cereal-fed cattle at about 4kg a day, the level of saturated fat was lower. So feeding vitamin E and linseed could help improve the appeal of beef."

Meat from cattle fed diets high in vitamin E has a longer shelf life (top) and contains less saturated fat.