The objectives of this study were to determine the effects of a low-dose (≤1 kGy), low-penetration electron beam on the sensory qualities of (1) raw muscle pieces of beef and (2) cooked ground beef patties. Outside flat, inside round, brisket and sirloin muscle pieces were used as models to demonstrate the effect of irradiation on raw beef odor and color, as evaluated by a trained panel. Ground beef patties were also evaluated by a trained panel for tenderness, juiciness, beef flavor, and aroma at 10%, 20%, and 30% levels of fat, containing 0% (control), 10%, 20%, 50%, and 100% irradiated meat. With whole muscle pieces, the color of controls appeared more red (P < 0.05) than irradiated muscles, however, both control and treatments showed a gradual deterioration in color over 14 d aerobic storage at 4 °C. Off-aroma intensity of both control and treatments increased with storage time, but by day 14, the treated muscles showed significantly (P < 0.05) less off-aroma than the controls, presumably as a result of a lower microbial load. It was found that a 1 kGy absorbed dose had minimal effects on the sensory properties of intact beef muscle pieces. Irradiation did not have a significant effect (P > 0.05) on any of the sensory attributes of the patties. Low-dose irradiation of beef trim to formulate ground beef appears to be a viable alternative processing approach that does not affect product quality.
Sensory panels could not detect differences between 1 kGy irradiated and nonirradiated portions of intact beef muscle or cooked ground beef patties made from the treated meat. Data obtained support the concept that that low-dose irradiation of beef trim may be a workable solution for the contamination of ground beef by toxigenic (STEC) E. coli.