Straw-Fiber Packaging Within Grasp Soon
ARS News Service. Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Marcia
Wood, (301) 504-1662, MarciaWood@ars.usda.gov
Today's leftover rice and wheat straw might tomorrow be used
in making environmentally friendly packaging materials or other
biobased products. The molded polystyrene forms that hold computers
or electronic components snugly in their shipping cartons, for
example, could be replaced with biodegradable inserts made--in
part--from straw fiber. That's according to Agricultural Research
Service chemist William J. Orts. He is leader of the Bioproduct
Chemistry and Engineering Unit at the ARS Western Regional Research
Center in Albany, Calif.
Orts directs studies that are revealing how cellulose-rich fibers
from straw hold up during pulping. The pulping process results
in a slurry of straw, water and additives, such as clays and starches,
that are dried and molded into rigid shapes. Straw fibers must
perform predictably so that the finished pulp product is uniform,
according to Orts. Otherwise, manufacturers might opt to stay
with familiar raw materials instead of choosing straw.
Orts is collaborating in the studies with Regale Corporation,
a California-based designer and manufacturer of customized packaging
made from recycled materials. In new tests at the Western Regional
Research Center, Orts and co-researchers are putting rice and
wheat straw through a modified hot-water and a conventional chemical-based
pulping process. The researchers hope to discover variations that
could lower costs. That could boost the appeal of rice or wheat
straw as an economical manufacturing option.
Packaging materials and other biobased products from straw could
give growers a new, profitable market for straw that today is
plowed under or perhaps sold for animal feed or bedding. The amount
of straw produced each year is enormous. In California alone,
the annual rice crop generates more than 300,000 tons of straw.
And the state's wheat crop yields an estimated 400,000 tons of
New Process for Tenderizing Meat
Scientist: James Claus (608) 262-0875,
Source: George Gallepp (608) 262-3636, Agricultural
and Consumer Press Service College of Agricultural and Life Sciences,
440 Henry Mall, Research Division, Madison WI 53706, (608) 262-1461,
University of Wisconsin-Madison
A new process that instantly tenderizes boneless meat could help
packing houses produce consistently tender, moist cuts of beef,
according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison meat scientist.
"We can take cuts such as top rounds, eye of rounds, or rib
and loin steaks and improve their tenderness by 25 percent to
30 percent in the blink of an eye," says James Claus of the
Department of Animal Sciences. "This could have an enormous
impact on the meat industry's ability to produce more tender products.
"Cuts that are already tender, such as filet mignon, don't
need to be more tender," Claus says. "The new process
increases the tenderness of cuts from the least tender animals
the most. The greatest improvement is in meat cuts that are leaner
and less marbled, which are typically from the lower USDA beef
quality grades. The result is that meat treated this way will
be more consistently tender." Tests show that the method
also works well on pork and chicken breasts. Claus found a 28
percent improvement in the tenderness of pork loins, for example.
To tenderize beef, the industry currently may age meat for one
to two weeks, use blades or needles that slice into or puncture
meat cuts, or add plant enzymes to the meat. Claus's tests at
the UW-Madison's Meat and Muscle Biology Laboratory showed dramatic
increases in tenderness of unaged meat.
The new method performs as well as or better than blade tenderization,
he says, and it doesn't break the surface of meat. (Processes
that break the meat surface increase the risk of bacterial contamination.)
Another advantage of the process is that nothing is added, such
as plant enzymes, which may give meat an undesirable flavor or
texture. The new process uses electrically generated hydrodynamic
shock waves. Like a sonic boom traveling through the atmosphere,
the shock wave speeds through the meat breaking apart some of
the tiny fibers in the muscle cells. In addition to improving
tenderness, this process also improves the ability of meat to
absorb and retain moisture, according to Claus. He says the method
does not change the meat's flavor or color. Hydrodyne Incorporated
of San Juan, Puerto Rico holds patents for tenderizing meat with
electrically created hydrodynamic shock waves. The company provided
the machine Claus evaluated. His experiments at the College of
Agricultural and Life Sciences were supported in part by grants
from the Wisconsin Beef Council.
The concept of tenderizing with shock waves is not new. An earlier
Hydrodyne method attempted to tenderize meat using explosives
to generate the shock waves. The new electrical-based system produces
higher shock wave pressures and allows an operator to treat meat
more than once if needed for greater tenderness. The unit Claus
used takes as much space as a small pickup truck and does not
require any unusual electrical current. Claus says the meat industry
may find the process especially useful in tenderizing what are
known as sub-primals and individual muscles used to produce case-ready
steaks. Claus also used the machine to tenderize beef and pork
cuts before injecting marinade. The treated cuts retained five
percent more marinade, which improved their juiciness.
The process also could be used in preparing broilers for market.
"It would allow that industry to remove breast meat from
bone immediately rather than storing the birds in ice first. We
found that breasts removed immediately and subsequently treated
post-rigor with this shock-wave method were as tender as breasts
harvested using the current method," Claus says.