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Technical Information

Phosphate Use in Meat Products

Phosphates are used in meat products for several reasons.  The principle reason being increased yields, which is accomplished by raising the pH of the meat protein, which in turn allows the protein to hold more water.  This principle is referred to as increasing the water holding capacity of meat.  Phosphates are alkaline in nature and, when added to meat, cause an increase in pH.

Most phosphates are sodium based, but you can buy potassium phosphate if sodium content is a concern.  Note that, as with salt, the potassium phosphate is bitter in flavor.  The most commonly used phosphate is Sodium Tripolyphosphate (STP); it is the most alkaline, produces the highest yield, and is the most economical.  Other phosphates are generally blends of STP, which raise the pH some but not like STP by itself.  Note here that with the elevated pH, one does not get as good a color formation as in a more acidic environment.  There are blends produced specifically for sausage manufacture, good color formation, some improvement in yield, and other benefits such as a juicier, more flavorful, easier to stuff product.

The USDA limits the amount of phosphate added to a meat system to not more than 8 ounces per 100 pounds of product.  Most suppliers recommend 4 to 6 ounces per 100 pounds.  One should be cautious with high phosphate levels in high fat products because fat and phosphate make soap, and some consumers will get a soapy taste in those products. USDA also requires the phosphate to yield a clear, colorless solution. If the solution is cloudy, one does not have the phosphate totally dissolved, there is still some in suspension. If this is added to meat products, one could expect a spotty product because of the spots of high phosphate concentration.  Also, the solution should be clear; a color tinge to the solution may indicate non-food grade phosphate use.  Remember that phosphates are also used in the detergent and agriculture industries.

Phosphate is permitted in all cooked meat products, cured meat products, and several just-cooked products such as roast beef, turkey breast, cooked brats, precooked pork sausage links, or patties.  Phosphates are allowed in fresh products, such as fresh poultry, turkeys and chickens, fish, sausage (like bratwurst, breakfast, Italian, etc.).

Processors should also be aware of the natural antioxidant properties of the phosphates, as they extend shelf-life of numerous products by restricting the rancidity development.

Phosphates should dissolve well in cold water; some with high surface areas help.  Never add phosphate without first completely dissolving it.  Use it for increased yields, profit, and shelf life.

Sodium Lactate

Sodium Lactate is a natural ingredient which extends the shelf-life, controls pathogenic microorganisms, and enhances flavor without significantly affecting either the product or the process of a meat product.

Sodium Lactate can be added to any meat or poultry product to which a flavoring may be added.  Fresh, cooked, cured, and further processed products may contain up to 2.0% Sodium Lactate.  Most Sodium Lactate is 60% USP strength, so one may add up to 3.3% of the Sodium Lactate 60% solution, as purchased. The remaining 40% is water, and although it need not be labeled as such, it must be included in your 3% added water calculations.

Sodium Lactate may be added up to 8% level in liquid for cooked, hermetically sealed containers (cans, Poly bags, etc.), such as ham, roast beef, corned beef, turkey breast, etc.

In addition to the increased flavor, one should expect to see better color, increased yields and increased shelf-life due to it’s effectiveness in controlling bacteria growth.  Some customers have seen 30 to 100% increases in shelf-life from a microbiological point of view.

The Sodium content is about 12.3% and should be given a lot of consideration in evaluating the sodium content of the product being produced and the additional “salty” flavor.  One may want to reduce the salt level in the product by 0.1 to 0.5%.

Sodium Lactate is available in 11# (1 gallon), 58# (5 gallon), or 606# (55 gallon) containers. 60% Sodium Lactate weighs 11.1 pounds per gallon (any less indicates that it has been diluted with water).  One may also dry down a sample to calculate the % strength.

Sodium Lactate is a slightly yellow, viscous liquid, and is very stable under normal storage conditions of room temperature and a closed container.  It is neutral, in the pH range of 6.5-8.5.  It is considered very safe, no special precautions are needed when handling, (although eye protection is recommended) and washes off skin and cleans up very well with water.

Sodium Erythorbate

Used in cured meat products to help fix the cured color, Sodium Erythorbate is a restricted-use item in which the amount cannot exceed 550 parts per million (ppm).  That rate is achieved by weighing out 7/8 of an ounce (0.0547 pounds on a digital scale). Any weight over this amount would be a violation when it was measured in the finished product. The material, by fixing the color better, prevents rapid fading and promotes a good cured color longer. You also get a deeper and better cured color when using Sodium Erythorbate.


This is a product which contains sodium Erythorbate (36.5%), dextrose, sugar, and sodium Citrate. Its primary function is to provide an easy manner to weigh out sodium erythorbate (a restricted ingredient) in 25 and 50 pound batches.

Sodium Phosphate

Sodium Phosphate is used in any cooked product to help increase the water-holding capacity (yield). A restricted ingredient, USDA regulations prohibit the use of more than 8 ounces per 100 pounds of sausage or 8 ounces per gallon of pump or brine at a 10% pump level.  The recommended level is 4 to 6 ounces per 100 pounds of sausage or gallon of pump at the 10% level. Phosphate helps the product hold more water during the cooking process, gives your product a slightly better color, and improves the flavor and increases juiciness. There are several types or kinds of phosphates and not all will work in meat systems. The type of phosphate will determine the price. It is very difficult to get into solution and cold water, salt, and hard water all make it more difficult. Do not add un-dissolved phosphate directly to the meat mixture.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

A product which when combined with foodstuffs will stimulate the taste buds on the back of one’s tongue to be more receptive to the flavor of food, MSG is known as a flavor enhancer. A level of usage at 2 to 3 ounces per 100 pounds seems adequate, some use a lot more. Some of the public is allergic to MSG (called Chinese Food Syndrome).

Potassium Sorbate

Potassium Sorbate is product which is used to inhibit mold growth on jerky, semi-dry sausages (like beef sticks and pepperoni). It’s used at a rate of 3¼ ounces in 1 gallon of water and then sprayed on, or the product is dipped in the solution. Product must have a moisture : protein ratio of 3.1:1 or less, and pH of 5.0 or less. Must be declared on the label, contingent with the product name and does not need to be in the ingredient statement.

Sodium Nitrite

Sodium Nitrite is the compound which provides the cured meat flavor, cured meat color, and helps prevent the growth of many food spoilage organisms. Levels in cured meats are restricted, and the amounts are dictated by the standard of identity for each item. Generally, there is a limitation of 156 ppm in most products that are made. One should preferably keep their ppm on bacon below 120 ppm. One can get color with a very low ppm, but you would not get the flavor or shelf life. This is a critical ingredient and it is the operator’s responsibility to insure the proper ppm. You should follow the label directions on the curing salt that you use, and discuss any variations you want with your inspector as to compliance with the laws and regulations on curing.

Meat Flavor Intensifiers (MFI)

Meat Flavor Intensifiers boost the meaty flavor of your products by the addition of 2 to 8 ounces per 100 pounds of meat. This hydrolyzed vegetable protein product, available in either liquid or powder form, will increase the flavor of your meat items. Nassau Foods carries the powder by the pound and the liquid by the gallon. It works well in sausage products, curing solutions, gravies, and sauces.


Ional (Sodium Citrate) was recently approved for use in meat products and has shown excellent results in controlling microorganisms, both pathogenic and spoilage in nature. It’s available in powder form, and one should mix it in with their seasonings prior to addition to the product. The suggested use rate is 1 to 1/25% of the meat block.