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WEEKLY FARM: Scientist blasts meat toughness to smithereens

May 17, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Morse B. Solomon has a shocking way to tenderize meat. The Agriculture Department researcher literally uses explosives to generate supersonic shock waves that instantly eliminate toughness.

``If done correctly, you wouldn’t know we had done anything to the meat,″ says Solomon, research leader at the Agricultural Research Service’s meat science research lab in suburban Beltsville, Md.

``It doesn’t fall apart,″ he said in an interview. ``It doesn’t lose its color. Taste panelists have not noticed any difference in flavor or juiciness. All they know is that the overall tenderness has been improved.″

And, he added, the tougher the steak, chop or drumstick, the greater the amount of tenderizing _ evenly and without turning the meat to mush.

The process could have a big impact on the industry if several hurdles _ including worker safety _ can be overcome, said Dr. Jim Gibb, vice president for quality for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in Denver.

``It has the opportunity to convert tough meat to tender cuts acceptable to the general public,″ Gibb said. ``It’s a technology that probably will have an impact.″

Solomon said the so-called Hydrodyne process involves vacuum-packing beef, lamb, pork or poultry in a plastic bag and putting it into a 280-gallon tank of water.

``Then we generate a small explosion using a small quantity of high explosives in the water at a precise distance from the meat,″ he explained. ``When it’s detonated, you have instant tenderness″ _ without being exposed to chemical additives now used to tenderize tougher meat, or the fatty marbling found in naturally tender cuts.

The tenderizing is the result of shock waves traveling through the water and penetrating the meat, rupturing its proteins and bonds, Solomon said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the idea of using an explosive to tenderize meat came from a former U.S. nuclear weapons specialist, John Long, who is now retired and living in Florida. The technique, however, uses ordinary explosives.

Solomon has worked on the project for four years and said the technology could be available commercially within a year if the major hurdle _ the composition of the plastic bags _ can be resolved.

``We’re working to design a bag that meat can go into and withstand these kinds of processes,″ he said.

Since patenting the process 18 months ago, Solomon says he has spent a lot of time discussing the technology with meat processors and other industry officials, and giving presentations at scientific meetings.

``There’s a tremendous amount of interest in it,″ he said.

Gibb of the Cattlemen’s Association said the science is sound and agreed ``the technology looks like it could have some applications if some of the hurdles can be overcome.″

Halliburton NUS Corp. completed a study last week that found worker safety not to be an insurmountable hurdle.

``The risks are minimal and certainly controllable,″ said Jon Ousley, the firm’s project manager in Aiken, S.C.

``When looked at in terms of industrial safety, they are a lot less dangerous than growing the beef, butchering it, packaging it or transporting it,″ he maintained. ``But the (explosive) charges would have to be handled correctly according to approved procedures.″

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