Spray chilling is the intermittent spraying of carcases with water to minimise carcase weight loss (shrink) during initial chilling. It is widely used in the USA and other countries but had not gained wide acceptance in Australia possibly due to the perception that the shelf life of vacuum-packaged meat is reduced.
Under projects P.PIP.0175 and P.PIP.0228, Swift Australia decided to quantify the benefits and determine whether shelf life is affected for beef.
A system was successfully installed to service one beef chiller and operational parameters were devised and tested. Average carcase weight loss was reduced to 0.47% and boning trials confirmed an increase in saleable meat yield of 0.53%. Carcase cooling rate and microbiological status was not affected by spraying carcases with ambient (22°C) water. Storage trials with vacuum-packaged primal cuts showed that shelf life was not affected by spray chilling up to a storage period of 13 weeks.
Further testing with a focus on food safety and shelf life was undertaken under project P.PSH.0426.
Once JBS Australia Pty Limited successfully implemented spray chilling of beef carcases in most of its Australian plants, it was felt that similar benefits could be achieved with sheep and lambs. In project P.PIP.0254, a section of a chiller at the Brooklyn plant in Victoria was fitted with a system that intermittently sprayed ambient-temperature (18°C) water for the first 8 hours of the chilling cycle.
Spray chilling reduced average carcase weight loss during overnight chilling from nearly 3% to about 0.6%. A yield trial comparing sprayed and non-sprayed carcases from the same chiller indicated that spray chilling resulted in an extra 2.3% of saleable meat.
A shelf-life trial during which bone-in and boneless vacuum-packed lamb cuts were assessed regularly over a 13-week storage period, showed that spray chilling had no effect on shelf life.
JBS Australia has successfully developed and implemented spray chilling across all beef and most sheep processing operations as a result of collaborative research and development on industry first proving trials at the JBS Dinmore and Brooklyn operations.
The benefits of implementing beef spray chilling primarily through yield savings are valued at an estimated $11 per head processed and for an operation with 680,000 hd / year the benefit could upwards of $7m per annum. As a result of this work, JBS was awarded the Red Meat Processing Innovation Award in 2011.
Many other processors have also taken up spray chilling as a result of MLA investments in this area.