Robot Butchers? Technology coming to your table

Recently, an article came across my desk from one of my meat industry news updates about JBS meat packing looking into using robots to process swine and lamb carcasses initially, with beef to eventually follow. In college I spent a lot of time in packing plants collecting beef carcass data, meat, and other tissues needed for samples. While I think it can be done, I think there may be some challenges (i.e. animal welfare, food safety, lack of human element) that will have to be overcome before we are ready to turn over meat processing to robots.

Below is a summation of articles from Harvest Media News and NPR on meat cutting robots. What are your thoughts about this high tech and revolutionary idea? 

meatbots_custom-3ed74201cd2d35802e270339b70141c10ce31ce0-s800-c85

Beef carcasses. Source: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants throughout the country employ about a quarter of a million persons.  Some of those workers that prepare the beef, pork, and chicken that ends up on dinner tables could eventually be replaced by robots. The world’s largest meatpacking company (JBS, the Brazil-based protein powerhouse) is looking at ways to automate the art of butchery.

Late last fall, JBS bought a controlling share of Scott Technology, a New Zealand-based robotics firm. While many manufacturers have gone to automated machines to process and package everything from food to furniture, the beef industry has held onto its workers. It takes thousands of workers to run a modern beef plant. In fact, U.S. meatpacking plants are expected to add jobs in the next decade, as the appetite for pork, chicken, and beef grows in the developing world.

Disassembly is the name of the game on the fabrication floor at the JBS beef processing plant in Greeley, Colorado. Workers hold a knife in one hand, and their sharpening steel is close to their side. Line workers are dressed in chainmail, a protective mesh lining under white jackets (frocks/smocks) and aprons. Deft cuts cleave bone and meat, turning a whole cow into neat and trim cuts like tenderloins, steaks, and roasts.

“There’s right now 850 people out in this building alone,” says plant manager Bill Danley as he weaves through the maze of conveyor belts, stainless steel slides, and bone bins. The plant is a far cry from your grandfather’s butcher shop, where a single person would need to know how to turn an entire animal into cuts of meat. Large beef companies like JBS, Cargill, and Tyson have turned each minute step of the process into a job. Danley lists some of the titles: chuck boner, tender puller, back splitter, knuckle dropper, and tail ripper. “There’s a lot of jobs out here that prep for the other person,” Danley says.

Each year JBS pays out more than $100 million in paychecks to its 3,000 employees. It’s a huge chunk of the company’s operating costs. That could begin to change with JBS’ new venture into the world of robotics. “This is a very innovative and exciting company that we invested in,” JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett says of the company’s investment in Scott Technology. “And we’re excited to see what they’ll come up with.”

JBS is looking at how robots could fit into its lamb and pork plants first, Bruett says. Sheep and pigs tend to be more uniform than beef cattle. “Now when it comes to beef packing, beef processing, the fabrication of the animal, it’s very difficult to automate beef processing,” Bruett says. The various breeds of cattle brought into the plant also complicate the future of robots in meatpacking. Some days the plant breaks down the long, lanky bodies of Holsteins. Other days they’re working on sturdy, thickset Angus and Hereford. Robots would need the ability to adjust to the spectrum of cattle breeds.

The meatpacking robots of today use vision technology to slice and dice, but the key to butchery is touch, not sight. JBS’s beef division president, Bill Rupp, says right now, robots just can’t feel how deep a bone is, or expertly remove a filet mignon. “When you get into that detailed, skilled cutting, robots aren’t there yet. Someday, I’m sure they will be,” Rupp says. “It can’t do the fine cutting that you see on the fab floor, that’s one of the big challenges right now.” Robotic technology doesn’t have the fine motor skills that come easily to humans and there isn’t room for error. Some of the cuts being boxed up bring upward of $14 per pound, Rupp explains, so the key is being able to leave it on the meat and not on the bone. “I mean that’s how our business works.”

The technology isn’t quite ready for a massive roll out, but could the economics of widespread robotic use in the beef industry ever work? Not any time soon, says Don Stull, an anthropologist who spent 30 years studying the cultures of meatpacking towns at the University of Kansas. “Workers are really cheaper than machines,” Stull says. “Machines have to be maintained. They have to be taken good care of. And that’s not really true of workers. As long as there is a steady supply, workers are relatively inexpensive.” There’s a stream of immigrants and refugees, most from Somalia, Rwanda, El Salvador, and Guatemala, ready to put on the chainmail and pick up the knife, Stull says. In large, modern plants, companies pay less because the skill needed to work on the fabrication floor is so low. Some jobs take less than a week to fully master. Turnover in the industry is high, Stull points out, because of the physical demands. Slicing meat all day can lead to repetitive injuries. JBS employs an athletic trainer to keep employees limber and fit. Stull says it’s still common for workers to transfer jobs at the same plant to make better money or to just avoid falling apart. “After you do the same thing thousands of times a day, six days a week … your body wears down,” Stull says.

While the industry says it has dramatically improved on worker safety over the years, meatpacking jobs consistently rank among the most hazardous in the country. Workers stand along conveyor belts on raised platforms, adjustable based on each person’s height. Those platforms were a big step in improving ergonomic conditions for workers, Danley says. Increased automation could ease some of those injuries.

Meat processing makes up a huge portion of Great Plains communities’ rural economies, what happens inside meat processing plants affects not only the companies involved, but the very culture of rural America.

Until technology catches up in both skill and costs, meatpacking companies will continue hiring workers to turn cattle, chickens, and hogs into cuts of meat.

IMG_5312
Source: Stephanie Paige Ogburn/KUNC

Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
Facebook
Pinterest

You might be a meat nerd if… Wordless Wednesday

magnets
Awesome internal meat temperature magnets 🙂

Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
Facebook
Pinterest

Meat vs Veggie – All iron is not created equal

This past summer I had a chance to work with Janet Riley and Eric Mittenthal who produce the Meat Mythcrusher videos via the American Meat Institute and the American Meat Science Association.

Watch below as we discuss the differences in iron in meat and plant sources, and how you can optimize your iron and zinc absorption.

Check out some of the other great videos they have created to helped answer your questions about meat.

——–

Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
Facebook
Pinterest

2016 food trend crystal ball?

2016 FOOD (2a)I always enjoy reading and hearing about expected trends in food. I love to try new dishes and flavors and enjoy experimenting in my own kitchen when given the chance.

With that, members of the American Culinary Federation have identified food categories they believe will be the 2016 food trends. Over 1,600 chefs were surveyed by the National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot: 2016 Culinary Forecast“.

5 center of the plate trends:

  • Locally sourced meats and seafood
  • New cuts of meat
  • Sustainable seafood
  • Free-range pork and poultry
  • Street food inspired main courses

5 appetizers and main plates:

  • Fresh/house-made sausage
  • House-made charcuterie
  • Vegetarian appetizers
  • Ethnic/street food inspired appetizers
  • Seafood charcuterie

5 preparation methods that will be popular in 2016:

  • Pickling
  • Fermenting
  • Smoking
  • Sous vide
  • Fire roasting

Keep an eye on these movers and shakers:

  • African flavors
  • Authentic ethnic cuisine
  • Ethnic condiments/spices
  • House-made/artisan soft drinks
  • Middle Eastern flavors

Which of these most excites you? I personally have a meat grinder on Christmas wish list, look out homemade sausage and other ground meat products!

————————

Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

The Strongman Cooks… An interview with LBEB’s Brandon

I recently asked Brandon at Lift Big Eat Big (LBEB) some questions about food and agriculture. You might remember him from this blog post.

If you don’t already follow Brandon on social media you should. He is on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and has a website.

Tell me about yourself?

My name is Brandon Morrison, I am a Powerlifter and Strongman, and I have been running LBEB (Lift Big Eat Big) for 4 years now. I graduated from Seattle University with a degree in historical theology and religious studies. Now, that doesn’t really have anything to do with lifting, but there is much more to me than lifting. I am the biggest (literally) history buff you will ever meet, and I have an insatiable appetite for more knowledge!

What role does animal protein play in your life?

Animal protein plays a big part in my life. In addition to hunting with my father or brothers most years, I use animal proteins in most of my cooking videos, and they are usually the centerpiece of the meal. In addition to simply cooking it, I like to study the different cuts of the animal, and learn how the animal’s lifestyle can influence the taste or texture of the meat. For example, I recently have been learning about the sleeping positions of cattle, and which side they favor to rest on. The side that they rest on can greatly influence the composition of a brisket. If a cow tends to rest on their right side, as I believe the average cow does, the right brisket will be much tougher than the left brisket. For this reason, I like to buy left briskets whenever I can!

brisket
Brandon knows brisket… Check him out on Instagram to see how amazing this brisket turned out!

Do you have any agriculture experience?

I unfortunately do not have much agricultural experience worth discussing. However, I like to get my ag information from experts in the field, rather than Facebook scare tactic photos. 🙂

How did you get into the culinary arts?

I got into the culinary arts for a few reasons:
#1. Cooking gives me an immediate sense of gratification, which I do tend to enjoy more than I should.
#2. I need something to obsess over, and since cooking can always be improved, it fulfills my needs.
#3. I am constantly bombarded with new ideas in my mind, and it can create for a very stressful life. With cooking, though, I can put these new ideas to use, as quickly as they come. For example, last Saturday I made 9 different meals, just for fun and practice.
#4. I love discussing the mouthfeel of food, what it reminds people of, what can be improved, and most importantly, I love when people enjoy food!

What is your favorite thing to make?

Right now my favorite thing to make is biscuits. Actually, no, I love biscuits, but I am obsessed with cooking pasta in a risotto-style right now. Basically, this means that instead of boiling pasta in water until cooked, you heat butter and the pasta in a hot pan, and have 1/2 gallon of chicken stock heated in another pan. You will add 1 cup of hot stock to the noodle pan, about every 3 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed. It will completely change the way you make pasta, any pasta. I’ll never go back!

If you could master any food dish what would it be?

If I could master any dish, it would have to be a simple Chinese dish. While some Chinese dishes may SEEM simple, in reality, you almost need an entire second kitchen’s worth of tools and ingredients. I have made Chinese bao buns, which turned out great, but I would really enjoy making great dim sum from complete scratch. I will get there, eventually. 🙂

Brandon_LBEB
Brandon with two of his life passions…

What a fun interview! A seat at Brandon’s table would be a foodie’s dream. Brandon, the agriculturists of the world thank you for your support!

————————————————–

Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Processed Meats and Cancer: Fearmongering or True Concern?

Bacon, the candy of the meat world, and other processed meats (i.e. ham, hotdog, sausage, salami, chorizo, deli meats, corned beef, jerky, canned meat) were recently categorized as Group 1 Carcinogens (carcinogenic to humans) by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), because of a causal link with bowel cancer. Other Group 1 Carcinogens include arsenic, tobacco, sunlight, alcohol, asbestos, and leather and wood dust. Red meat is listed as a Group 2A (probably carcinogenic to humans), along with grilled food and the profession of a hairdresser. The entire list of carcinogens can be found here.

The WHO defines “processed” as meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal, or meat by-products such as blood (I don’t know about you, but these are common methods I use to prepare food at my home…). Additionally, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) has an excellent article on Processed Meats: Convenience, Nutrition, Taste. 

Dr. Janeal Yancey with Mom at the Meat Counter says this about the benefits of processed meats in her post The sky is not falling on hotdogs and bacon:

Processed meats are important. The ingredients and processes used to make hotdogs and bacon and sausage are about more than creating tasty treats to eat at tailgates. Processed meats help us to use meat more efficiently, waste less food and feed more people.

Processed meats allow us to use the whole animal. There are lots of cuts on the animal that wouldn’t taste very good if we just tried to cook them like fresh meat. They may be too tough, too small, or too fatty. Meat processors grind them up and mix them all together to make sausages and hotdogs.

Processed meats allow us to store meat for longer times. Ingredients like salt, sugar, and nitrites help fend off bacteria that cause it to go bad. They also keep it from becoming rancid. Think about how long hotdogs and ham last in the fridge in comparison to fresh steaks and burgers.

Processed meats are a good source of inexpensive protein. Foods like hotdogs and sausages are inexpensive, but they provide protein. People need that protein, especially kids. Protein helps you feel fuller, longer after a meal. It also helps build and repair muscles as kids grow. Research has shown that kids fed protein perform better in school. In some poor families, processed meats are the only way they can afford to feed their kids protein.

Processed meats help prevent food-borne illness. Ingredients like salt and lactates help keep dangerous bacteria, like Listeria, from growing, and nitrites are added to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes Botulism.

It is important to note in an interview with MeatingPlace.com, IARC indicates:

Processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans), but this does NOT mean that they are all equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.

Meat consists of multiple components, such as heme iron. Meat can also contain chemicals that form during meat processing or cooking. For instance, carcinogenic chemicals that form during meat processing include N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Cooking of red meat or processed meat also produces heterocyclic aromatic amines as well as other chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are also found in other foods and in air pollution. Some of these chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens, but despite this knowledge it is not yet fully understood how cancer risk is increased by red meat or processed meat.

The IARC experts indicated that each 50 gram (1.8 ounce) serving (about 1 hotdog or 3 strips of bacon) of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. The Guardian reported:

Dr Elizabeth Lund – an independent consultant in nutritional and gastrointestinal health, and a former research leader at the Institute of Food Research, who acknowledges she did some work for the meat industry in 2010 – said red meat was linked to about three extra cases of bowel cancer per 100,000 adults in developed countries. “A much bigger risk factor is obesity and lack of exercise,” she said. “Overall, I feel that eating meat once a day combined with plenty of fruit, vegetables and cereal fiber, plus exercise and weight control, will allow for a low risk of colorectal cancer and a more balanced diet.”

Dr. Betsy Booren, NAMI (North American Meat Institute) said, “Followers of the Mediterranean diet eat double the recommended amount of processed meats. People in countries where the Mediterranean diet is followed, like Spain, Italy and France, have some of the longest lifespans in the world and excellent health.”

Dr. Jude Capper with Bovidiva says it is nearly impossible to assess the impact of meat consumption in isolation, in her post Bringing home the bacon – I’m a cancer survivor with meat on the menu:

Let’s examine the real risk.  The average person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer is approximately 5%. If the WHO data suggesting an 18% increase in risk is correct, a daily 50 g serving of processed meat increases that risk to 5.9 % (an increase slightly less than 1 people per 100), of which between 0.65 – 5.4 people will survive for 5 years or more (depending on cancer stage at diagnosis). Despite the increase in meat consumption over the past century (and therefore assumed increase in processed meat consumption due to changes in dining habits and food availability), the death rate from colorectal cancer has dropped over the past 20 years. Moreover, in media articles discussing the WHO announcement, there is no mention of mitigating factors such as fruit and vegetable consumption. What happens if I eat 50 g of bacon within a huge salad with a side of oat bread, a meal high in dietary fiber, which is cited as having a protective effect against colorectal cancer? Or if I eat bacon after running five miles, given the role of exercise in preventing cancer? As with so many other health risks, it’s almost impossible to assess the impact of meat consumption in isolation.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President, Phillip Ellis, had this to say about the claims:

Let me be clear, this group did not conduct new research during their meeting, they simply reviewed existing evidence, including six studies submitted by the beef checkoff. That evidence had already been reviewed and weighed by the medical and scientific community. The science reviewed by IARC simply does not support their decision.

We know that there isn’t clear evidence to support IARC’s decision because the beef checkoff has commissioned independent studies on the topic for a decade. In fact, countless studies have been conducted by cancer and medical experts and they have all determined the same thing: No one food can cause or cure cancer. But that hasn’t prevented IARC from deciding otherwise. This conclusion isn’t mine alone and you can evaluate the information for yourself. We’ve posted the studies reviewed by IARC and other information about the committee’s findings on the website: factsaboutbeef.com. At NCBA, our team of experts has also been working with our state partners and other industry organizations to ensure consumers understand what the science really shows.

Since IARC began meeting in 1979, these experts have reviewed more than 900 compounds, products and factors for possible correlation with cancer. To date, only one product (caprolactam, which is a chemical primarily used to create synthetic fibers like nylon) has been granted a rating of 4, which indicates it is “probably not carcinogenic to humans.” Most other factors or products that have been examined by the body, including glyphosate, aloe vera, nightshift work and sunlight have fallen into three categories: 2B “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” 2A “probably carcinogenic to humans,” or 1 “carcinogenic to humans.”

Overwhelmingly, the reaction by most people has been “oh well”, no one is quite ready to give up bacon yet. The NAMI gathered some feedback and quotes from people around the world on the announcement. To read those comments go here.

Charred (blackened or burnt) meat can contribute to carcinogenic effects. Facts About Beef recommends that when cooking meat it is very important to monitor heat level and doneness temperatures of meat, poultry, and fish. Additionally, making lean beef part of your diet can provide the nutritious health benefits and healthy fat, which can help reduce the risk of cancer! Read more at Facts About Beef.

I would venture to guess there are very few people on this planet that do not know someone affected by cancer. It is a serious and complicated disease – no one really knows what causes it or how to prevent it. As the commercials indicate, one bite of kale or one sit up are not enough to keep us healthy and disease free forever. Everything, literally everything, could potentially give us cancer — stress, lack of sleep, age, our gender, genetics, smoking, our weight, activity level, career, family, lifestyle hormones, phones, alcohol, food, etc. It is virtually impossible to identify one food that can cause or prevent cancer, thus making discussions on red meat being a possible carcinogen a challenge for experts to reach consensus.

To date, scientists and health professionals agree that maintaining a healthy diet, an active lifestyle, and being a non-smoker can reduce the risk of cancer. While processed meats have been added to the list of carcinogenic items, the science is divided on these claims. Until we know why or how cancer and processed meats are linked, moderation seems like a very reasonable suggestion.

————————————-

Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Balsamic Glazed Steak Wraps

I am a foodie… I love trying new recipes, new flavors, and flavor combinations. As you can imagine I am that person that rarely orders the same thing twice at a restaurant. So when I found this recipe at Tablespoon, I knew I had to try it!

 Balsamic Glazed Steak Wraps

Steak wrap prep - fina
Lots of fresh, healthy ingredients.
Steak rolls - final
Aren’t they beautiful in their final form? So colorful.
steak roll eating - final
And they tasted great too… I told the Hubs it reminded me of Cowboy Sushi 🙂

I made a few adaptations from the original recipe.

  • At my local retailer I found round steak already thinly sliced into 7 pieces.
  • I added a yellow squash to my lineup of vegetables. I think you could add or eliminate whatever suited your tastes.
  • I chopped the rosemary and added it to the glaze versus just using the springs and then removing them.
  • The balsamic glaze was amazing, but I wanted more of it as I was eating the rolls, so I doubled the recipe.
  • We paired this with rice and it was a great accompaniment.
  • We pan fried these as we weren’t sure how they would hold up on the grill. I think they would be fine as long as you were fairly gentle when you flipped/rolled them over.

Here is a copy of the recipe I used, adaptions and all.

Balsamic Glazed Steak Wraps (2)

I think it would be fun to make a breakfast version of this with herb potato slices and a fried egg inside the steak roll with a spicy salsa drizzled over the top? What other versions would you make?

——————————-

Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Nebraska Extension on Pure Nebraska: A partnership made on tv

A new partnership has recently been formed between Nebraska Extension and Pure Nebraska (a 10/11 news ag focused news program).

Pure Nebraska highlights an Extension Educator/program on Thursdays and a 4-H Educator/program on Fridays. Pretty cool huh?

I recently did a segment about meat labels here and you can listen to some of the great things my colleagues are doing here. I had a great time, and it was so fun to see the inside of a tv studio.

1011 interview
Pure Nebraska hosts: Taryn Vanderford and Jon Vanderford.

————————————

Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Meat labels: What do they mean?

A blast from the past… These meat labeling posts are ones people continue to visit, and since there are some new friends and followers here 🙂 I wanted to share these once again.

Featured Image -- 1575

Agricultural with Dr. Lindsay

Today I wanted to come back to meat labels. A couple of months ago I did a series on what meat labels mean. For full details check them out at: Grain-fed and Grass-fed, Organic and Natural programs, no added hormones and no antibiotics, Humanely raised, and a quick reference guide on interpreting the labels.

The University of Nebraska’s Market Journal followed up with me to do a video segment on what the labels mean – check it out.

View original post

McDonalds and Costco Make Headlines ; Farmers and Processors Make Safe Food

Antibiotic free meat is the norm… learn more about media sensationalism and the process of drug residue testing from a butcher’s perspective.

NC Meat Mom

McDonalds and Costco made headlines last week when they announced a campaign to eliminate the sale of food products treated with antibiotics.  While many consumers rejoiced, others questioned the need for such a proclamation. Are farmers needlessly injecting their animals with antibiotics?  Is there antibiotic residue in the meat we eat?  How can consumers be assured their food is truly safe?  As a small meat processor, I have seen firsthand the USDA’s commitment to this issue.  Countless hours have been spent discussing preventative measures and receiving training to ensure that the food produced within my facility is safe for human consumption.

In order to be eligible for slaughter, animals must be able to walk off the trailer and pass an ante-mortem inspection…things that are not always easy when sick livestock are involved.  While the media would have consumers believe that antibiotics are unnecessarily pumped into healthy animals, the truth is…

View original post 315 more words