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Control Programs: water retention in edible raw red meat products

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1.0 General principles

The operator's Preventive Control Plan (PCP) must include measures to demonstrate how their product is not misleading (SFCR 89(1)(b)). As per PCP requirements, all documents /records are to be kept for a minimum of 12 months.

Raw livestock carcasses and parts should not retain water resulting from post-evisceration processing (retention should remain below 0.5%). However, tolerance levels have been established for water retention in offal and parts removed during dressing that are chilled with water, ice etc. (for example head meat, tails, tongues etc.).

As part of their PCP, an operator that slaughters red meat will need to demonstrate that their processes do not cause the retention of water in excess of naturally occurring moisture (above 0.5%Footnote 1), or otherwise demonstrate that the water retention is an inevitable consequence of the process to meet the requirements of the SFCR.

Any meat product that has been subject to a process that incurs water retention (above 0.5%) must be labelled accordingly. Please consult the Labelling requirements for meat and poultry products.

The operator will need to include in their PCP a water retention protocol that:

A separate evaluation of each species of livestock carcasses is necessary including ostriches, rheas, and emus. It should also distinguish between immature classes of a particular species (for example calves) and mature livestock (for example one for heifers, steers, cows, and bulls) to determine if a particular process promotes water retention.

Best practice is for operators to inform and share with CFIA any new or amended water retention protocols.

2.0 Scope of application of the water retention protocol

All raw single-ingredient meat products are susceptible to water pick up during a procedure that has the product coming into contact with water and will need to be assessed under a water retention protocol as part of the PCP (unless otherwise indicated in section 2.2 below). Raw single-ingredient meat products include dressed carcasses and all their parts (for example trimmings, tails, livers, hearts, kidneys, feet, etc.).

2.1 Examples of procedures expected to have a water retention protocol

The following, although not all inclusive, are examples of procedures expected to have a water retention protocol:

2.2 Procedures exempted from a water retention protocol

The following are examples of post evisceration processes involving the use of water that are not expected to have a water retention protocol:

However, if the scalded, flushed or washed products are then chilled by contact with water and/or ice, then the chilling procedures (only) would need a retained water program.

Washing offal (for example: hearts, livers, etc.) under a shower to remove excess blood is unlikely to promote water retention when followed by chilling on hooks and as such, data collection is not necessary but a warm packing process without dripping after a shower could need to be validated.

3.0 Water retention protocol

3.1 Expected elements of water retention protocol

  1. Purpose statement

    The primary purpose of the protocol should be to determine the amount or percentage of water absorption and retention that is unavoidable using a particular chilling system.

  2. Type of washing and chilling system used by the establishment

    Describe any post-evisceration washing or chilling processes that affect water retention levels in and microbial loads on, raw products.

  3. Configuration and any modifications of the system components

    Describe the chiller/cooling system such as:

    • configurations
    • any modifications of the chiller system components including the number and type of chillers/coolers in a series
    • arrangements of the chilling/cooling system components
    • the number of evisceration lines feeding into a chiller/cooling system

    If there is pre-chilling/cooling step in the chilling process, describe accurately:

    • the purpose and type of equipment used
    • any mechanical or design changes to the chilling/cooling equipment
  4. Special features in the process


    • any special features in the chilling/cooling process
    • length and velocity of the dripping line
    • total time allowed for dripping

    Explain any special apparatus, such as a mechanism for removing excessive water from chilled carcasses.

  5. Description of variable factors in the system

    Describe the variable factors that affect water absorption and retention. Such factors include:

    • dwell time in water baths
    • the water temperature
    • water spray duration and pressure
    • air agitation, where applicable
    • scalding temperature and the pressure prior to the water chilling process of offal

    Ensure that each set of variable factors is tested according to the procedure of the protocol.

  6. Criteria to be met by the system


    • time/temperature expectations of the chilling system to align with refrigeration best practices to reduce internal temperature to 4°C
    • any microbial reduction intended by an intervention (for example intervention for E. coli O157 H7, US pathogen reduction standards as an export requirement)
  7. Testing methods to be employed

    Describe testing methods to be used for measuring water absorption and retention at various chilling equipment settings and chilling time-and-temperature combinations. The method should be reproducible and statistically verifiable and the description should include:

    • sample collection location
    • number of samples
    • type of samples
    • sampling time period
    • type of testing or measurement, for example weighing procedures
  8. Reporting of data and evaluation of results

    Explain how data obtained are to be reported and summarized. The criteria for evaluating the results and the basis for conclusions to be drawn should be explained.

  9. Conclusions

    The protocol should provide for a statement of what the data obtained demonstrates and what conclusions were reached.

3.2 Water absorption calculation

The method chosen in calculating water absorption and retention should be reproducible and verifiable.
Suggested methods:

Water retention is calculated as follows:

Final weight – Initial weight / Initial weight X 100 = Retention %

An example to illustrate this calculation is available in Annex I.

3.3 Data analysis

Once data is collected, the operator should examine the data and assess if water is being retained or not. Points the operator should consider in the analysis:

  1. Ensure that each set of variable factors has been tested.
  2. Ensure all critical parameters are recorded during the test, such as:
    • sampling time and location
    • "green" and final weight for each sample carcass
    • transit/chilling time, air or water temperature
    • revolutions per minute for paddle chillers
    • cycle time and spraying time for spray chilling systems
    • surface and/or internal temperature of carcasses, etc
  3. Confirm that there is zero net water absorption and retention ("green" weight after evisceration but before contact with water post evisceration compared to product final weight as packaged). Otherwise define the maximum water retention which is an inevitable consequence of the process to meet regulatory requirements.

For red meat carcasses or cuts when no water retention is the outcome expected, if water is retained (>0.5%) as a result of the process where it is applied, the process should be corrected to ensure that water is maintained under 0.5%. Validation of the corrected process should follow once it is implemented.

Proposed water retention protocol for red meat: Annex II

4.0 Monitoring water retention

Once a procedure, other than spray carcass chilling, has been validated to incur less than 0.5% water retention, only an annual test will be necessary. The operating parameters of the process should nonetheless be continuously monitored and controlled on an hourly basis as part of the PCP.

However spray carcass chilling (validated for water retention of less than 0.5%), as well as any procedure that results in more than 0.5% water retention will need to have a monitoring program for each raw single ingredient to demonstrate consistent achievement of the lowest level of water retention as defined in the PCP. The program should explain how samples will be collected and used to control the amount of water retention, sample frequency, accept/reject criteria and corrective actions.

4.1 Water chilled offal and parts

Chilling processes should achieve a performance where a maximum of 8% of water is retained by the offal or parts (as described in 1.0).


Switching rules

Initially, 1 test is required per production shift ("1/shift"). Results will be assessed based on the average % of absorbed and retained water and should not exceed 8%.

Corrective actions

If a test indicates greater than 8% absorbed and retained water, then the next available lot will be tested. If results again exceed 8%, then:

As well, the operator will conduct an investigation to determine the probable cause and take effective corrective action. The written retained water control program(s) should be amended if operational parameters have changed.

4.2 Carcass spray chill monitoring

Carcasses of red meat should not retain added water (above 0.5%). Because of the possibility of increasing the weight of the carcass over its hot dressed weight, the following procedures are suggested for establishments using or contemplating the use of spray chilling for red meat.

The possibility of reduced shelf life in product chilled in this manner is considered to be a quality assurance problem unless a food safety risk is demonstrated.

The monitoring program for water pickup in carcasses will include the random selection and weighing of sample carcasses prior to leaving the coolers for shipping or further processing to assure that their weight does not exceed the green weight as recorded on the kill floor after trimming and before carcass washing.

Sample size

The sample size in the following table is based on "sampling plans indexed by Acceptance Quality Limit (AQL) for lot-by-lot inspection", ISO/ 2859-1, (identical to Canadian Government Specifications Board (CGSB) standard on inspection by attributes 105-GP-1 or Military Standard 105-D (MIL-STD-105D) of the United States Department of Defence). However, the AQL has not been determined from a baseline survey but has been found to be very low in practice resulting in an AQL of 0.40 being selected for this test. Therefore, throughout the table, the accept number is always 0 and the reject number is 1.

Carcasses can be divided into lots of a designated size. The maximum lot size that should be defined is the production from 1 kill shift. The number of carcasses that make up the sample depends on the lot size according to the following table:

Number of carcasses to be weighed
Lot size Normal Reduced
25 2 2
26-150 8 3
151-280 13 5
281-500 20 8
501-1200 32 13
1201-3200 50 20
≥3201 80 32

Selection of sample and weighing

The carcasses to make up the sample are selected at random, prior to the final wash and leaving the kill floor and are identified. Their weights are noted and totalled. In plants where computer tracking systems or their equivalent are installed the information generated by these systems may be used as an alternative for identifying and tracking carcass weights. After chilling and before further processing or shipping, the carcasses are re-weighed and the total combined weight of the sample carcasses is calculated. If the combined weight of the sample carcasses making up an individual lot after chilling is equal to or less than the combined hot green weights of the same sample carcasses taken prior to the final carcass wash when leaving the kill floor then the process is considered to be in control.

To account for scale variability a tolerance of no more than 0.5% over the hot green weight is permissible in the weight of the sample lot after spray chilling. If the combined chilled weights of the sample lot are greater than the combined hot green weights of the sample lot plus a tolerance of 0.5% then the process is considered to be out of control and corrective actions should be implemented.

Interpretation of results

Although a tolerance of 0.5% is permitted to allow for scale variability on an individual lot basis if any increases over hot, green weight after spray chilling occur routinely then the process will be judged to be out of compliance and corrective action should be implemented.

Corrective actions

Corrective actions should include immediately notifying the CFIA of the establishment that the process is out of control. The establishment should begin an immediate investigation of the non-conformance and steps will be taken to correct the process by adjusting spray chill, etc. CFIA should be notified of any corrective actions.

Product out of compliance should be held until brought back into compliance.

Switching rules

Initially the normal sample size is to be used until 5 consecutive lots have been found in compliance. At this time the company may switch to the reduced sample size and sample only 1 out of 5 consecutive production shifts. If at any time a lot is found to be out of compliance, sampling using the normal sample size must be resumed until 5 consecutive lots are in compliance.

Annex I: Example of method for determining retained water in red meat and red meat products

A. Introduction theory

In this determination, a weighed sample is heated, cooled, and then re-weighed. The loss in weight is calculated as water content.

B. Equipment apparatus

  1. Covered aluminum dish. At least 50 mm diameter and not greater than 40 mm. deep, containing a paddle.
  2. Mechanical convection oven, preferably one equipped with a booster heater.
  3. Food chopper with plate openings 1/8" (3 mm), or Robot Coupe or equivalent food processor.

C. Sample preparation procedure for fresh meat

For accurate and reliable measurement, the raw meat sample should be finely ground to a homogeneous consistency.

D. Analytical procedure

  1. Accurately weigh sample (representing approximately 2 g of dry material) into an aluminum dish.
    1. Weigh the sample as rapidly as possible to minimize loss of water.
    2. The weight of the pan should include the paddle, which is used in spreading the sample across the bottom of the pan, thereby presenting a greater sample surface area, which is beneficial to water removal.
    3. If the sample is relatively dry when received, a small quantity of distilled water may be added to the pan only after the sample weight is obtained. This quantity of water will be helpful in spreading the sample across the bottom of the pan, and will introduce no error since it will be evaporated when the sample is oven-dried.
  2. Dry, with cover removed, for 16 to 18 hours at 100 to 102°C, or for 4 hours at 125°C in mechanical convection oven. Do not overload the drying oven or sample may be insufficiently dried and give low results. Drying time will start when the original temperature has been reached. Use the oven's booster heater, if the oven is so equipped, to minimize this recovery time.

E. Calculations


Percent = [100 (B - C)] / A

A = sample weight
B = weight of dish + sample before drying
C = weight of dish + sample after drying


If the laboratory is not air-conditioned, and the humidity is high, dishes should be desiccated before the initial and final weighings.

Annex II: Protocol for evaluating retained water in the following single ingredient red meat product: steer/heifer carcasses


The following is an example protocol and should not to be used verbatim. Because each establishment is unique, each establishment should design their protocol to reflect the individual characteristics of their operations.

1.0 Purpose statement

1.1 The purpose of this protocol is to determine the amount of water absorption and retention in steer/heifer carcasses that is unavoidable while achieving the regulatory requirements.

2.0 Type of washing and chilling system

2.1 The facility slaughter/dressing line utilizes a final carcass washer at the end of the dressing procedures. This is followed by a carcass rinse that includes the antimicrobial intervention Footnote 2 (insert example) prior to entry into the carcass cooler. The carcass cooler is maintained around 1°C.

3.0 Configuration and modification of the chiller system components

3.1 The establishment uses a carcass water spray system in the carcass cooler to chill carcasses rapidly. The carcass water spray system consists of intermittent sprays of water during the carcass cooling process.

4.0 Special features in the chilling process

4.1 Chlorine is added to the carcass water spray as an antimicrobial intervention at 20 to 50 ppm. The carcasses freely drain before exiting the carcass cooler and prior to further processing in the establishment or prior to shipping.

5.0 Variable factors that affect water absorption and retention

5.1 The final carcass wash cabinet consists of a number of spray nozzles at a selected pressure at selected spray directions by the establishment. The final carcass wash water is the normal ambient water temperature from the municipality or of the well water. The number and size of spray nozzles, direction of nozzles, water pressure, and the length of time in the final wash cabinet may be changed depending upon the size of the carcasses, season of the year, and changes in the dressing procedures. The carcasses are in the chiller system (cooler) usually from 18 to 24 hours. The carcass cooler temperature is usually maintained around 1°C. The temperature of the water in the carcass water spray is the normal ambient water temperature from the municipality or of the well water. The frequency and length of intermittent sprays of water per bay during the carcass cooling, the carcass cooler temperature and the drain time from the last spray prior to exiting the cooler may be varied.

6.0 Criteria to be met by the chilling system

6.1 Salmonella pathogen reduction performance standards, as per US export requirements, will be metFootnote 3.

7.0 Testing methodology

7.1 Water absorption and retention.

7.1.1 Samples will be collected immediately prior to the final carcass wash on the slaughter/dressing line to determine the "green" weight of the carcasses. 2 (insert number) random carcasses will be tagged and weighed in Footnote 2 (insert number) groups of Footnote 2 (insert number) carcasses. The Footnote 2(insert number) groups will be distributed evenly throughout the production period (beginning, middle, and end) with the production period being defined as sanitation to sanitation.

7.1.2 Samples will be collected from carcasses at point exiting the cooler. The tagged carcasses from will be weighed immediately prior to further processing or shipping. These post-cooler weights will be compared to the pre-final carcass wash weights to determine the retained water gained using a mathematical difference calculation (cooler exit weight minus "green" weight [pre-final carcass wash weight]) as a percentage.

7.2 Pathogen reduction measurement.

7.2.1 Footnote 2(insert number) groups of Footnote 2 (insert number) carcasses will be randomly selected post-cooler from the same lots as those tested in Section 7.1. The Footnote 2(insert number) groups will be distributed evenly throughout the production period (beginning, middle, and end) with the production period being defined as sanitation to sanitation. The percent Salmonella positive rate will be determined using the post-cooler carcass swabs Salmonella performance standard methodology.

7.3 Evaluation of cooler factors.

7.3.1 The frequency and length of intermittent carcass sprays per cooler bay. 3 frequency and length of sprays will be evaluated. 15 minute interval: Spray for 1 minute, spray off for 14 minutes. 30 minute interval: spray for 3 minutes, spray off for 27 minutes. 60 minute interval: spray for 3 minutes, spray off for 57 minutes.

7.3.2 The carcass cooler temperature will remain around 34°F.

7.3.3 The drain time from the last carcass spray until exit. 2 drain times will be evaluated. 4 hours after last spray. 6 hours after last spray.

7.3.4 Study design. A three-by-two factorial table will be used to evaluate the effect of these cooler factor settings on the percent water retention (Section 7.1) and on the pathogen reduction measurements (Section 7.2). Each of the 6 cooler setting combinations will be evaluated for 3 processing periods (defined as sanitation to sanitation). Each processing period will be considered a replicate.

8.0 Evaluation and reporting of data

8.1 The results achieved from the 3 replicates per cooler setting combination will be averaged and reported as the final result for each cooler setting combination.

8.1.1 Carcass weight differences will be determined using a mathematical difference calculation (cooler exit weight minus "green" weight) for each carcass group resulting in recorded weight difference results. The weight difference obtained per carcass group will be divided by the "green" weight per carcass group to determine the % water retention cooler exit per group. The results will be averaged to obtain the estimated average % water retention at point of cooler exit.

8.1.2 The Salmonella data will be reported as the number of positive samples/number of samples tested × 100 (% positive).

9.0 Explanation of how the conclusions will be determined

9.1 Conclusions will be determined by comparing the baseline pathogen reduction levels achieved pre-protocol implementation with the post-protocol implementation pathogen reduction results. This comparison will be evaluated according to the specifications detailed in section 6.1.

9.2 The amount of water retention that is unavoidable to achieve the above food safety criteria will be reported.

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