Ostrich Meat Grading

Newsletter No. 36 – February 2006 Item 4

Many of our members have not attended conferences or training courses where the Grading system has been explained.  To develop a better understanding, this section will discuss the main points of the system and their relevance:

There are 5 Grades:  Prime, Choice, Select, Utility and Non-Food

Prime, Choice and Select Grade:
- Prime grade is the best quality meat and will carry the highest market value.
- Choice grade is a young cull breeder or bird held too long before slaughter. Some muscles will be less tender and lower value than Prime
- Select is a cull breeder of any age over 24 months.  Provided the breeder has been fed a good diet all her/his life - the meat will still be good tasting and a good colour.  It will be tougher and therefore carry a lower price than Prime or Choice

To qualify for the relevant Grade a bird must satisfy every definition.  The only difference with Prime, Choice and Select is bird age all other definitions are the same:

Bird Age - Prime
Definition: Less than 16 months.
Comment: As referenced above individual companies may choose to improve on this and only allow birds up to 300 days as their top grade to give additional competitive advantage.  Perhaps this can be called Prime Plus?

Bird Age - Choice
Definition:  16 to 24 months of age
Comment:  This category picks up birds that were not slaughtered prior to 16 months but still young enough to have some quality tender muscles

Bird Age - Select
Definition: 25 months of age and older
Comment:  This will be all cull breeders that have been well raised and meet all the other criteria laid down for this category

Fat Pan Colour:
Definition: White Fat Pan Colour only
Comment: Birds can produce fat from Pure White to very deep yellow colour.   Fat colour is a key indicator to bird health.  When yellow fat is present, very often other negative factors can be seen on the bird that will influence the overall taste and appearance of the meat. The picture below is the Japanese Beef Grading and has been published as part of the marketing by a number of companies producing Beef as part of their marketing program. This web site is one such company: http://www.blackgoldfarms.com.au/grading.html   Note how they not only discuss fat marbling they also have this colour chart for Fat Colour and Meat Colour - Figure 1.   Ostrich fat is often seen very much more yellow that the lowest score given in this example.   In this example of the Japanese Beef Grading system the higher the grade the more desirable the meat and the fat and colour chart, the lower the score the more desirable.  The more desirable attributes will achieve the highest price.

Japanese Beef Grading

Figure 1 – Japanese Beef Grading

Ideally an Ostrich slaughter bird should carry a fat pan of approximately 32-35mm thick.  Too little fat is also a sign of malnutrition that can lead to variable tasting and poorly textured meat.

Muscle Colour:
Definition: Even red muscle colour throughout
Comment: Variable colour within the same muscle is a nutritional inadequacy and therefore controllable.  The most common known variable colouration in single muscles is White Muscle Disease.  If you ever see muscles of differing colour or some very pale or white muscle - corrective action needs to be taken.  Apart from the affect on bird health and therefore economic performance, consumers are influenced by the colour and appearance of meat.[4]   Muscle with the appearance of the Ostrich muscles in Figure 2 are not attractive to the consumer and commonly seen in our industry at this time.  During one presentation an ostrich meat processor informed me that meat looking like this photograph was all he ever saw, he believed it to be normal.  Meat from birds producing one or more muscles such as figure 2 will not qualify for Prime, Choice or Select Grade.

Multie Coloured Muscles

Figure 2 – Multi-Coloured Muscles

Heart Condition:
Definition: Heart of normal size, colour and texture, with no damage
Comment: A small heart, a heart surrounded by yellow fat, a heart that is a poor texture are all key indicators to malnutrition and it is commonly seen in ostrich today.

Liver Condition:
Definition: Mid-brown colour with no abscess/ulcerations
Comment: Many, if not all, slaughter plants that have slaughtered ostrich will be able to report extremely variable liver conditions - more variable than is commonly seen in mainstream livestock specie.  When any abnormality of the liver is seen, the bird must be downgraded.  The liver is a blood filtering organ and when the liver is not functioning to the optimum, there will be odd tastes in the meat.

Disease Condition:
Definition: No disease symptoms or evidence
Comment: This bird will be downgraded to Non-Food

Other Condition:
Definition: No Oedema or "jell" substance on heart, thigh or sternum
Comment: These conditions are also symptoms of mal-nutrition.  When mal-nutrition is present the meat will usually be more variable in colour, taste and texture.

Utility Grade:
A Utility grade bird will be any bird that does not meet the standards set out for Prime, Choice or Select grade, but is fit to eat.  The meat will be inconsistent in taste, colour and texture and this grade is to be discouraged for retail sales while our industry is working to establish a place in the market and achieve good prices.  Utility grade meat should only be used for further processing into value added products. The following are the definitions for Utility Grade.  A bird will be Utility grade if it has any one of the conditions referenced:

Bird Age: 
Definition: Any age of bird
Comment: When a bird has any of the conditions defined below, the meat is likely to be variable in flavour and less attractive to market due to darker meat colour.

Fat Pan Colour:
Definition: Yellow Fat Pan colour
Comment:  As referenced above, fat of a more yellow colour is a key indicator to the overall health of a bird.  Yellow fat also has a poor aroma that is indicative of the impurities in the fat.  Although Ostrich meat is sold free of fat, the presence of yellow fat on the carcass is an indicator of variable tasting meat of variable degree of tenderness.

Muscle Colour:
Definition: Multi-colouring of muscles (pink to dark red)
White colour areas in some muscle
Comment:  Multi-colouring is not attractive to the consumer and the meat will be variable in taste.

Heart Condition:
Definition: Small, damaged or spongy texture hearts
Comment:  A poor heart will be caused either by mal-nutrition or disease.

Liver Condition:
Yellow, Green or Black Colour
Liver abscesses or ulcerations
Comment:  All above definitions are key indicators to liver damage of some degree.  Livers unable to function adequately are unable to filter the blood adequate and may result in toxins and/or heavy metals remaining in the muscle and/or fat.  Depending on the severity of the damage, these conditions can result in off tasting meat and meat with a poor aroma.

Disease Condition:
Definition: No disease symptoms or evidence
Comment:  Disease can result in infection in the birds that may cross contaminate good meat and/or infection may be passed onto the consumer if the meat is not handled correctly.

Other Condition:
Definition: Oedema or "jell" substance on heart, thigh or sternum
Comment: These conditions are also symptoms of mal-nutrition.  When mal-nutrition is present the meat will usually be more variable in colour, taste and texture.

Non-Food Grade:
Non-Food is a polite way to say condemned carcasses that are not fit for human consumption.  A condemned bird will display one or more of the following conditions.

Bird Age:
Definition: Any Age of Bird

Muscle Colour:
Muscles with abscesses or channels in meat
Muscles with light or dark spots

Liver Condition:
Definition: Spotty or infected livers

Disease Condition:
Definition:  Any disease symptoms or evidence

The greater the number of members who utilise the grading system as part of their marketing program the greater the opportunities for all to benefit.  Clearly a membership fee of $100/annum cannot provide the funding required developing this, but through communication the membership can come up with a plan.

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