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Guidelines for U.S. Dry-Aged Beef for International Markets

Introduction

Recently, there has been increased interest and demand for dry-aged beef products in international markets. There are, however, challenges to exporting dry-aged products caused by typical red meat export logistics and access issues. The objective of this guide is to help international importers and distributors understand the pros and cons of importing or producing dry-aged beef products and utilize a program that fits their needs. Palatability traits, yields and cost are the primary characteristics affected by wet- and dry-aging. Some recognizable differences are as follows:
Wet Aging Dry Aging
Tenderness Improved Improved
Flavor Unchanged Nutty and beefy
Yield Minimal Loss Up to 30% loss from moisture and excess trimming
Cost Slightly increased from extended storage time Greatly increased from extended storage time, equipment purchase and decrease in yield
Selling Price Varies Always significantly increased
 

Research Summary

Three dry-aged programs were developed from a joint study* of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) and Oklahoma State University with the focus on maximizing flavor and shelf life along with ensuring the safety characteristics of dry-aged beef for international consumers.

An overview of the three programs

 
1. Chilled Importer Dry-Aged Beef Wet age during export (7-28 days) Dry age in international market (14-35 days) Fabricate in international market
2. Frozen Exporter Dry-Aged Beef Dry age in U.S. (14-35 days) Fabricate in U.S. Freeze and export
3. Frozen Importer Dry-Aged Beef Freeze and export Dry age in international market (14-35 days) Fabricate in international market
 

 
Eating Quality 1 = 2 > 3
Dry Aging Yield¹ 1 > 2 = 3 ¹Dry Aging Yield = Dry-aged weight/weight immediately prior to dry aging
Cut Yield² 1 > 2 > 3 ²Cut Yield = Finished final product weight/dry-aged weight
Moisture Retention 1 > 2 > 3
Cost (least is better) 2 > 1 > 3


Definitions

Dry Aging – The process of placing an unpackaged wholesale cut in a refrigerated room for a period of time while controlling temperature, relative humidity and air velocity to enhance tenderness and flavor. Although dry aging provides a unique flavor that no other aging method can achieve, it results in loss of yield from shrinkage and excessive trim.

Wet Aging – The process of aging of meat in vacuum packaging under refrigerated conditions and in the absence of oxygen. Humidity and air velocity are not necessary requirements for proper wet aging. Wet aging is mainly used for tenderness enhancement with minimal effect on flavor. Due to the anaerobic environment provided by vacuum packaging, product shelf life is significantly extended while reducing shrinkage and excess trimming.

Frozen Meat — Meat is frozen at -2°C (28°F). Freezing suppresses the activity of microorganisms, ensuring longer shelf life than chilled meat. Freezing also halts enzymatic degradation, which stops the aging process. In most instances, frozen meat is rapidly frozen in a blast air freezer and completely frozen in less than 24 hours with a core temperature of -18°C (0°F).

Boxed Beef – Fabricated, vacuum-packaged and boxed beef subprimals ready for freight. Transportation times vary, as ground transportation (7-10d) is much shorter than ocean transportation (21-28d).

*CREATING DRY-AGED TRADITIONAL AND VALUED-ADDED BEEF CUT PROGRAMS FOR DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL MARKETS. Oklahoma State University, Department of Animal Science, Stillwater, OK 74078. Equipment NeededA small cooler with special racks for small-scale production
  1. A cooler with temperature, humidity and air flow control (a fan may be used in a large walk-in cooler for air flow control).
  2. A data logger to ensure temperature, humidity and air flow stability.
  3. Special wire racks or slated shelves to hold the meat and ensure full exposure to air. Must be large enough to hold subprimals (i.e. typical ribeye roll is 14 in x 8 in x 4 in).
  4. For Method 2 users, a freezer capable of maintaining temperature < -18℃ (0℉) is the only equipment needed.
 
Suggested storage temperature, relative humidity and air velocity range for dry aging
Suggested Range Problems encountered when values are too high Problems encountered when values are too low
Storage Temperature 0 – 4°C (32 – 39°F) Excessive microbial growth resulting in product spoilage Aging process ceases as meat is frozen
Relative Humidity 80 – 85% Excessive microbial growth resulting in product spoilage Excessive weight and trim loss
Air Flow 0.5 – 2 m/s (1.6 – 6.6 ft/s Excessive weight and trim loss Excessive microbial growth resulting in product spoilage
 
Walk-in-APS Data-logger-APS
A large walk-in cooler with wire racks or slated shelves for intermediate to large-scale production A data logger recording temperature and humidity


Method One – Chilled Importer Dry-Aged Program

Step 1. BoxesSFWPurchase U.S. beef from a packer or purveyor eligible to export to your country. (Contact USMEF for a complete list of exporters.)
Step 2. Cold StorageImmediately place into cold storage once products have cleared customs inspection.
Step 3. Set the dry-age cooler temperature, relative humidity and air flow according to the suggested values listed in the equipment needed section.
Step 4. Cooler RackRemove vacuum packaging and place each subprimal on the rack in the cooler.
Step 5. SubprimalsKeep subprimals in the cooler for a minimum of 14 days for full development of dry-aged flavor.
Step 6. BoxesSFWCollect the fully dry-aged beef subprimals from the cooler. Trim the crust and excess fat, and fabricate the subprimals into the portion size of your desire.
Step 7. BoxesSFWUtilize fabricated dry-aged products as soon as possible. Do not repackage the product for further aging.


Method Two – Frozen Importer Dry-Aged Program

Step 1. Find a U.S. beef purveyor who produces dry-aged products and is eligible to export to your country. (Contact USMEF for a list of eligible exporters who cater dry-aged products.)
Step 2. Immediately place into frozen storage once products have cleared customs inspection. Keep them there until you are ready to thaw them.
Step 3. Thaw the frozen product in refrigerated conditions [4℃ (39℉F) or below] before use.
Step 4. Utilize thawed dry-aged products as soon as possible; do not repackage thawed dry-aged products for further aging.


Method Three – Frozen Importer Dry-Aged Program

Step 1. Follow steps 1-4 listed in Method One.
Step 2. Immediately place into frozen storage once products have cleared customs inspection. Keep them there until you are ready to thaw them.
Step 3. Let the subprimals sit in the cooler for a minimum of 17 days for full development of dry-aged flavor (3 days to thaw, 14 days to dry-age).
Step 4. Follow steps 6-7 listed in Method One.

Points to Consider

  • Wet-aged time can be calculated by subtracting the current date from the production date on the box.
  • Wear rubber gloves, clean frocks, and hair and beard nets to minimize bacterial contamination.
  • To ensure full exposure to the air, do not stack the subprimals while dry-aging.
  • Combined trimming and moisture loss from dry-aging can range from 15% to 25%.
  • Cold chain management is vital to preserve the safety and quality of the meat product. The temperature of the subprimals should never exceed 5oC (41oF) for fresh product and -18oC (0oF) for frozen product.
  • Use a data logger to monitor the dry-aging cooler’s ability to maintain a constant temperature, relative humidity and air velocity (temperature fluctuation should not exceed + 2°C; the other two factors are more flexible).
  • Determining the number of days of dry aging is a personal preference. There is no threshold where sufficient time is required beyond about 14 days to truly call the beef “dry-aged.”
  • Minimize the number of times opening and closing the cooler door to maintain proper temperature and humidity settings.
  • If you don’t plan to utilize the dry-aged product immediately, do not fabricate the subprimals. Keep them in the cooler. With the proper handling practices, subprimals can be dry aged for up to 35 days without any negative effect on flavor and safety.
  • Freezing or refreezing the finished product is not recommended, as the product deteriorates in quality every time it is frozen and thawed.
  • For Method Two users, discuss with the purveyor about desired cuts, quality, dry-aging periods and portion sizes prior to purchase.
  • Do not thaw the dry-aged products at room temperature as microorganisms can grow exponentially at temperatures above 5oC (41oF).
  • It requires at least a day (24 hours) to thaw every 5 pounds of meat, so plan ahead.