Aged meat does not pose any additional risks compared to fresh meat if it is aged under controlled conditions, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) experts concluded in a scientific opinion released this week.
Meat ageing is a process during which microbes and enzymes act upon the meat to break down the connective tissue, thereby tenderising the meat and giving it a richer flavour.
This can be done through two main methods – wet ageing and dry ageing.
Wet ageing is used for beef, pork and lamb that is stored and refrigerated in a vacuum package, while dry aged beef is refrigerated without packaging which results in a dry surface that is cut off before preparation.
Chair of EFSA’s panel on biological hazards, Prof. Kostas Koutsoumanis said: “Aged meat has risen in popularity in recent years among the food industry and restaurants, yet, until now there has been a lack of knowledge about its safety.
“EFSA’s advice contributes to fill that gap and provides a solid scientific basis for food business operators to produce aged meat that is safe.”
There are no additional risks involved, provided that the specific combination of time and temperature identified in the scientific opinion are observed during the ageing process, according to EFSA’s experts.
E.g., dry aged beef can be considered as safe as fresh beef if ageing is done for up to 35 days at a temperature of 3°C or lower.
How safety levels were determined
EFSA’s experts looked at current practices and identified the relevant pathogens and spoilage bacteria that might develop and survive during the ageing process and that could be harmful for health.
These include E.coli (STEC) (especially in beef), salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, listeria monocytogenes, enterotoxigenicYersinia, campylobacter and clostridium.
They described the conditions, expressed as combinations of time and temperature of the ageing process, under which the production of dry aged and wet aged meat would result in the same level of safety as fresh meat.
In the case of dry aged meat, the experts also advised that the surface temperature not exceed 3°C during the ageing process.
This is because at higher temperatures, mould might grow on the surface of dry aged meat and some of these moulds naturally produce mycotoxins – toxic compounds that can have harmful health effects.
Finally, the experts concluded that the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) and prerequisite programmes used to ensure the safety of fresh meat are also applicable to aged meat.