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Safety issue comes home to roost in frozen vs. 'fresh' poultry debate.

Frozen products enhance quality and convenience, but nervousness about contamination f fresh or thawed products is still paramount. Irradiation gets red light from consumers.

"The best assumption to me is to assume that everything is contaminated with some organisms that is not wholesome," Robert Stark told the US National Frozen Food Convention in Las Vegas at a seminar on foodservice poultry.

Stark isn't some consumers' group alarmist; he's vice president of research and development for Tyson Foods, Springdale, Arkansas, who opened the session with a videotape singing the praises of value-enhanced frozen poultry convenience products.

Robert Schafer, president of Creative Culinary Consultants, travels around the country to get the pulse of the foodservice market. When it comes to poultry, he told the session, operators want consistent, healthy, quality products, sized and priced to meet their menu needs.

Sanitation, Schafer said, is very important because of the press it gets," with frequent reports of outbreaks of salmonella and even botulism. And when somebody asked him about the safety of ice-pack chicken, he remarked: "It's nice when it's all covered with ice, but it rarely is ... The chicken just floats in the somewhat bloody water with some ice cubes in it. It's not a pretty sight and it scares the hell out of me, I'll tell you that."

Of course, frozen products enjoy the advantage there; as Stark pointed out, "fresh" chicken may be as much as a week old by the time it reaches the customer, whereas frozen chicken is frozen almost as soon as it is processed (IQF chicken must be frozen within 72 hours under an FDA regulation). The only reason frozen products aren't frozen minutes after processing, he said, is to allow the meat to pass through the rigor mortis stage and become tender - but that means freezing it the very next shift, he stressed.

"Our industry is quite different from what Clarence Birdseye envisioned some 60 years ago, or from what the Swanson brothers envisioned 45 years ago," Stark remarked in introducing his video. There are now hundreds of products out there and, as Schafer said, the operators "are looking for that uniqueness that is going to set me apart from my competition." They're not willing to settle for just recipe cards anymore, but for products that can be adapted for multiple uses - such as marinated and flavored chicken parts that can be prepared Cajun, Oriental or Mexican style to appeal to every customer.

Poultry products and the recipes to go with them must be "operationally feasible," he stressed; otherwise, "the cook is cussing you out in the back because you can't make it - you can make two an hour and that's it." There's a lot you can do with basic items, too, he added: "Great sauces make great entrees, and great chefs make great sauces ... It's all done with mirrors, it's called food assembly'." But ease of preparation is a must, because "901% of the operators out there don't have the luxury of having a chef, and of those 90%, 75% probably don't have the luxury of having good cooks. "

Marination, Schafer revealed, serves a function beyond value enhancement for boneless items. "Boneless items cannot take as much abuse as bone-in products, and marination just allows them [the operators] to abuse it a little bit more." Stark added that marination seems to work better for vacuum-packed products, because the vacuum pulls the marinade into the voids of the meat. He agreed with Schafer that marinated products stand up better to cooking and careless handling - such as being left unused for a prolonged period after cooking - than non-marinated poultry products do.

Frozen poultry is gaining over fresh in the foodservice market, although nobody seems to have any hard figures. "We'd like to convert more people to frozen, since that's our business," Stark noted. Naturally, he was skeptical of attempts to market shelf-stable "fresh" products, as with gas-flushed packaging. Such packaging is now being billed as extending shelf life from 45 to 65 days. "If that's |fresh', guys, is that really fresh, sitting in a supermarket someplace for that length of time?" he quipped. "If you can't sell it in 45 days, the product probably doesn't need to be there. If we had something sitting in a slot in his freezer, and it's out there for 45 days and didn't move, he'd probably have us out, right?"

Irradiation of poultry, recently approved by the US government, didn't have any takers at the session - and apparently not anywhere in the industry, either. The process is very expensive, and only two facilities in the country can do it, Stark said, but the primary concern is that "the consumer reaction is very negative." Tyson Foods' tollfree phone line has been lighting up with calls giving us a lot of bad vibes about that," he said. Stark also shot down the idea of bleaching dark meat to make it more appealing to consumers - that would be considered "economic cheating" by the Federal Trade Commission, he said. But a number of foodservice operators are finding new uses for dark meat without calling it white meat, he added.

Poultry surimi, on the other hand, "is a great opportunity, it really is," predicted Stark. "I think you're going to see a lot of blending. I think the trend is towards low-fat products, and surimi technology gives us the opportunity to reduce fat content of various proteins, not just fish." Low-fat proteins might even be blended with red meats to create exciting new products, he said. In general, poultry is one of the fastest-growing items on the menu, he and Schafer agreed, and Schafer even joined session host Sam Bailin in endorsing the National Frozen Food Association's Frozen Food Book of Knowledge as a source of product and recipe ideas for the industry.
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Title Annotation:ideas debated at US National Frozen Food Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Refrigeration hot business as China develops industry.
Next Article:Computerized system for poultry takes the weight off their minds.

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