The reduction of the salt content in dry-cured meat is strongly linked to the ability to more tightly control the salting process. To achieve this, it is necessary to develop tools and methodologies that allow evaluating those meat properties that condition the salt uptake process. Among them, one should particularly highlight the relevance of the weight, the fat/lean composition, the amount of intramuscular fat, the water holding capacity of meat, and the morphology of the meat piece.
Accordingly, the first part of the project has been focused on the development of technologies that can be integrated in actual production lines to characterize fresh meat. The information provided by this system shall be used to optimize the salting process in the production of dry-cured meat products, and to more accurately control the amount of salt uptaken by each piece. The meat inspection system developed in the project consists of two modules. A first module is based on a magnetic induction scanner, which integrates a dynamic weighting system, and which can evaluate the weight and the fat/lean content of the meat piece. Moreover, a second module based on an artificial vision system was developed to assess other relevant meat parameters, including meat colour, lean exposed area, amount of intramuscular fat, and morphology.
The ProCured inspection system allowed designing different sets of experiments aimed at modelling the salt uptake process. The overall goal of these experiments was to establish mathematical models that could be used to predict the salt uptake in dry-cured ham production, as a function of ham properties. This methodology was applied to different case scenarios, including the “Serrano ham”, “Iberian ham” and “Parma ham”. For each case, it was successfully proved that the salt uptake could be modelled by taking into account the meat parameters extracted by the meat inspection system, and the salting conditions used in the process. Based on this information, a control software was developed, which could accurately predict the salting conditions to be used to reach a certain salt target, by taking into account the characteristics of each ham.
Complementarily to the fresh meat inspection system, in the project it was also developed a magnetic induction scanner that could be used to determine the salt content in meat, after the salting stage. This system shall be used to monitor the salt content piece by piece, thus allowing to detect any eventual deviation in the salting process.
The last phase of the project was aimed at validating the technology under an industrial environment. This validation phase of the ProCured technology was performed in collaboration with two dry-cured ham producers at Spain (Jamones Centellas), and Italy (Fratelli Galloni). The implementation of the ProCured control system was probed to be able to substantially reduce the salt dispersion after the salting stage. In this way, the ProCured control system was found to be effective in improving the homogeneity of the salt content in dry-cured ham production.
Statistical dispersion of the total salt content after the salting stage, obtained for two different sets of hams. The group RS was salted using the conventional salting process. The group MSRed was obtained using the salting parameters defined by the ProCured control system. The results clearly show the substantial reduction in the dispersion of the salt content achieved in the group MSRed, and the effectiveness of the ProCured control system.