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Clean labels present challenges and opportunities

March 15, 2012
By Carisssa Nath , Marshall Independent

AURI Meat Scientist

How often do you read the nutrition label on the food you buy? Research is showing that more consumers care about what ingredients are in their food and therefore are spending more time reading the nutrition and ingredient labels.

Consumers are often looking for shorter ingredient statements, also known as "clean labels," believing that the fewer ingredients in an item, the healthier it is.

Is it true that fewer ingredients mean healthier food? Not always. As part of my job, I work with processors interested in reformulating their products to use alternative, natural ingredients, and it's important for consumers to know that many of the ingredients in meat products have been there for centuries and are present to ensure the meat is safe to eat.

Consumers' taste preferences also offer challenges for food and meat processors. Often, buyers want products to look and taste the same, but want them to be healthier. For example, many producers and processors have tried to reduce sodium in their products. However, when those products are brought to taste panels for testing, consumers usually prefer the higher sodium products.

Even with these challenges, processors are working hard to come up with alternative, natural ingredients. Meats that are labeled "natural" or "organic" can't have nitrate or nitrite in them, which are chemicals critical for food preservation.

So, some processors are trying alternatives such as vegetable juice powder to cure the meat.

To help producers and processors, AURI produced the Natural and Organic Meat Processing Guide, which guides through natural alternatives for curing meat. For a copy of the guide, please call AURI at 507-537-7440.

AURI operates a laboratory in Marshall to help the state's meat processors develop and test new products. For more information, visit or call 507-537-7440.



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