Safe and clean has become a mantra in the ready-to-eat (RTE) meat space. Preservatives are added to RTE meats to maintain food safety and extend shelf life by retarding oxidation, but they also must meet consumer expectations. Clean ingredients have become a requirement to draw and hold the attention of label-conscious consumers.

“Future of food,” a white paper published by the ingredient solutions manufacturer Kerry, Beloit, Wisconsin, underscores the importance of clean label to many consumers. The research, which included a survey of 2,100 ingredient and nutrition-conscious consumers, showed that “clean label is the foundation and a building block in consumers’ overall expectations from food and beverage.”

Consumers are looking beyond clean label as they filter unacceptable ingredients, according to the white paper. They now are more attentive to the added nutrition and functional benefit of ingredients.

“The findings from this research study is case-in-point of how consumers are constantly evolving in their needs and expectations from food and beverages,” said Soumya Nair, director of marketing insights at Kerry. “Clean label, once a differentiator and trend, is now a table-stake and an expectation from consumers. While the gravity of clean label and its subsequent attributes differ by the food or beverage in focus, its importance among consumers has only been compounding over the years.”

Ready-to-eat meat processors have several ingredients perceived as clean to consider. Propionic acid, acetic acid and citric acid all fall into the organic acid category. Propionic acid is considered the most effective of the acids while vinegar, a natural source of acetic acid, is being used by processors as a label-friendly, natural antimicrobial.

Vinegar bottleBuffered vinegar is where a great deal of innovation has been taking place; it is an ingredient people understand and don’t view as a chemical preservative. Suppliers offer liquid and dry formats of buffered vinegar, even no-sodium and organic options, making it easy to add to brines, marinades, spice blends or it can be directly applied to meat.

Corbion, which has U.S. offices in Lenexa, Kansas, recently introduced organic vinegars under its Verdad product line. The three new vinegar products are formulated for organic and non-GMO processed meats.

Verdad PC300 Organic Vinegar is buffered with potassium carbonate, a common treatment, and contributes no sodium to the finished product, according to Corbion. Verdad SB300 Organic Vinegar is buffered with baking soda. Verdad OV300 Organic Vinegar delivers a low-cost solution that contributes no sodium to the end application.

Target applications for the ingredients include turkey breast, chicken cuts or strips, ham, cooked and fresh sausages, beef or pork pot roast, roast beef and enhanced beef or pork.

“Vinegar-based solutions leverage natural fermentation processes to help the industry answer the growing demand for products with simpler labeling,” said David Charest, vice-president — meat industry for Corbion. “Our new organic solutions respond to a dimension of the clean label market that just keeps growing.”

Rosemary and green tea extracts often are combined with buffered vinegar for a multi-prong approach to extending shelf life by addressing color retention and food safety with one ingredient.

Some suppliers offer natural, clean label pathogen protection ingredients made from fruit and spice extracts. They often are described as true “uncured” ingredient solutions, as they are free of celery-based ingredients, which are inherent sources of natural nitrates, and chemical nitrites. Such ingredient systems create several hurdles for pathogen control, including polyphenol and flavonoid antioxidants, as well as dried vinegar. Blends of essential oils and oleoresins also have been shown to exert food safety benefits.

As the market for snacks featuring blends and combinations of meat and other primary ingredients continues to proliferate, it is important for manufacturers to understand the challenges of creating a safe product that meets consumer expectations.