The recent development of a practical, economical way for packers to test the vitamin E levels in finished cattle should further increase the use of vitamin E supplementation to increase the color shelf life of beef. The new test, developed by University of Wisconsin researchers led by Dr. Dan Schaefer, will enable packers to quickly determine whether vitamin E is present in the carcass at the necessary levels for longer color shelf life. Fine-tuned over five years, the test measures the vitamin E present in the neck muscle. "Vitamin E won't be present there unless it was fed to the animal for a sustained period," Schaefer explains. "Testing muscle this way prevents a packer from being misled by someone who fed vitamin E for just a few of days before slaughter, instead of the recommended 100 days."
Speed is the new test's great advantage. Before, Schaefer says, it would have taken two or three packing plant employees eight hours to process 40 carcasses. Now, a single employee can run tests in duplicate on 100 carcasses over the same amount of time.
Furthermore, those 100 tested carcasses can serve as a sample for up to seven times as many cattle, Schaefer says. To check a semiload of 38 head, the packer must test only five animals--and if four of the five show the necessary level of vitamin E, the packer can assume that the whole pen received the recommended vitamin E supplementation, given the variation in animals' physiological makeup, Schaefer says.
Thus, every 100 carcasses tested represent 20 loads of 38 animals each, or a total of 760 animals. Schaefer, who refers to his testing procedure as "a first-generation solution," estimates the start-up cost of installing the necessary equipment at $35,000 to $40,000.
Such developments place vitamin E at the center of many beef industry goals: higher quality, less waste, greater consumer satisfaction and the development of wider export trade and value-based markets.