The detection of woody breast in the United States poultry industry is problematic due to the current best practice detection method of hand palpation. Hand palpation has a high error rate up to 25%, and requires skilled, experienced personnel to conduct hand palpation testing.
Convenience and health benefits have increased the consumption of chicken in the US from 36 lbs per capita in 1965 to approx. 91 lbs per capita in 2017 (National Chicken Council, 2018a). To satisfy the growing demand, the broiler industry has developed fast-growing big-broiler strains (>6 lbs) to produce approx. 41 billion lbs in 2017 of ready-to-cook poultry meat but this has also resulted in the development of novel breast muscle (pectoralis major) degenerative myopathy leading to meat quality problems (National Chicken Council, 2018b). As breast meat is the most economically valuable portion of chicken, breast muscle myopathies and meat quality defects represent a huge problem for the broiler industry and end users.
A method is needed to rapidly and objectively separate woody from normal chicken breasts. In 2018, poultry processors began to use the Certified Quality Reader (CQR) to separate woody breast from normal chicken breasts. The technology behind the CQR is Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA).
BIA measures bioelectric properties (conductance and resistance) of meat arising from cell membranes and from extra- and intracellular fluids (Kyle, et al., 2004). Although initially designed to study the human fat: water ratio, BIA has been used to detect the proximate composition and freshness of fish and meats (Swatland, 2002; Cox and Hartman, 2005; Chevalier et al., 2006).
Figure 1. Reduction in woody breast by measuring daily. Changes were made at the source to reduce woody breast prevalence. Objective measures were taken daily (110 measures/15 minutes). Woody breast occurrence dropped to under 2%.
A major poultry processor in the Southeast US used the CQR to monitor woody breast in their plant. The plant was experiencing an average of 15 % prevalence of woody breast. They chose to try to reduce woody breast prevalence at the source. Monitoring several hundred birds daily afforded them the data to see if changes at the source would reduce woody breast occurrence. The plant took 110 measures every 15 minutes allowing them to have a statistical representative sample.