Frozen meat poses food-poison threat

-File photo

ISLAMABAD: Researchers have found that defrosted meat can rapidly become contaminated with bacteria. The finding may partly explain the UK’s food-poisoning epidemic.

Work at the Centre for Cell and Tissue Research at the University of York has shown that thawed tissue is riddled with capillary-like canals through which micro-organisms can travel, The Guardian Reported.

Ashley Wilson, director of the centre and lead investigator, warned that the previously overlooked problem should be taken seriously by consumers, butchers, supermarkets and the Food Standards Agency after his results are published.

“It is a potential risk,” he said. “Our results suggest that you should use frozen meat the same day as it is thawed.”

The team used novel microscopy techniques to reveal the ultrastructure of chicken breast. They found that it underwent a process
of micro-canalisation.

Elongated ice crystals align themselves with muscle fibres as the chicken freezes. When it thaws, the crystals melt and leave behind a series of linked voids once filled by water, salts and proteins. This network is connected to the chicken’s surface, which is often contaminated with micro-organisms such as salmonella.

“The micro-canals and their contents provide the perfect environment for the proliferation of bacteria,” Dr Wilson said.

When the scientists exposed thawed chicken to non-pathogenic bacteria, they found that the bugs could penetrate more than 10mm into the meat in eight hours. Infection of fresh meat was confined mostly to its surface.

The scientists also discovered that meat subjected to high-speed cryogenic freezing used on 10 per cent of frozen-food products in the UK – was more resistant to penetration by bacteria.

This was because smaller ice crystals formed in the meat, which left behind a finer network of micro-canals that the bugs found more difficult to travel through.