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AGRICULTURE REPORT – August 20, 2002: Exploding Meat - 2002-08-19

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

American scientist Morse Solomon has developed an unusual method to make meat softer. First, put a kilogram or more of firm meat in a container filled with water. Add a small amount of explosives. Then, mix carefully and explode.

No, Mister Morse is not attempting to destroy the meat. Instead, he is making it softer and also killing harmful bacteria. Mister Solomon is a meat scientist with the United States Agricultural Research Service. He began to explore the use of shock waves to soften meat ten years ago. His method is called the Hydrodynamic Pressure Process. The theory is simple. Shock waves from an explosion travel through water to the meat.

The shock waves tear small pieces of muscle and other particles away from the meat. This makes the meat softer and easier to eat. The shock waves also reduce the amount of bacteria in the meat. The Department of Agriculture says the process could increase food safety for companies that sell meat.

Uncooked meat may contain organisms such as the Escherichia coli (esh-eh-RICK-ee-ah COLE-eye) bacteria, also known as E. coli. E. coli can make people sick if they eat meat that is not well cooked. The Hydrodynamic Pressure Process may help reduce concerns about harmful bacteria in meat.

Other American scientists attempted to improve the process. They used a thick-walled metal container that was buried in the ground. This device did not improve the quality of the meat as much as the simpler method. However, the scientists found there seemed to be fewer bacteria in the meat than before the process.

Scientists had demonstrated that the Hydrodynamic Pressure Process could improve large pieces of meat. Next, they wanted to see if the process reduced bacteria levels in smaller pieces of ground beef that is used to make hamburgers. Their tests showed a reduction of bacteria in ground beef products. Other studies showed that ground beef containing E. coli had no measurable levels of the bacteria after the treatment.

The Hydrodynamic Pressure Process does not kill all bacteria in the meat, however. Mister Solomon says some good bacteria remain. The agricultural scientists say more studies are needed to see if the method could be used in the meat processing industry.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.