What’s the Big Deal About Pork Quality?


David Newman, Arkansas State University

via FarmJournal's Pork - February 1, 2019


What is pork quality?


Admittedly, this is a loaded question that I get asked all the time in my role at Arkansas State University. And it has no simple answer. We throw the term “quality” around, but we can seldom come to agreement in the industry on a true definition of quality. This is likely due to the very nature that defining quality can be subjective.


We want consumers to have a good eating experience, but who is the final judge? As a meat scientist, I can demonstrate that a good eating experience occurs when you eat a quality product. In terms of science, this relates to pork’s quality attributes of color, marbling and end-point cooking temperature that create a juicy, tender and flavorful eating experience. 


What do scientists have to say about it?


Research shows many consumers associate the term quality with a product that is fresh and wholesome. These are certainly important characteristics for food safety. Fortunately, in the U.S., we have one of the best food safety systems in the world; freshness and wholesomeness are rarely an issue.


Meat scientists observe numerous factors – both objective and subjective – to determine fresh pork quality. These factors may include critical measurements like pH, subjective color, objective color, subjective marbling, percent of fat, objective tenderness, fat quality and sensory measurements like tenderness and juiciness.


Normally, we look at these conditions at 24-hour post-mortem in a processing facility once the carcass has cooled. This allows us to quantify the many different factors that affect pork quality. For example, a different feed ingredient, a new genetic line or another isolated change could influence pork quality.


When buying pork in the grocery store, I recommend looking at color and marbling. Each of these factors can be a predictor of all the things a meat scientist looks at and, as humans, we have amazing tools and talents to make these assessments.


The nose knows and the eyes have it ...