The detection of the woody breast in the United States poultry industry is problematic due to hand palpation's current outdated detection method. Hand palpation has a high error rate of up to 25% and requires skilled, experienced personnel to conduct hand palpation testing.
Convenience and health benefits have increased chicken consumption in the US from 36 lbs per capita in 1965 to approx. 91 lbs per capita in 2017 (National Chicken Council, 2018a). The broiler industry has developed fast-growing big-broiler strains (>6 lbs) to satisfy the growing demand. They produced approximately 41 billion pounds in 2017 of ready-to-cook poultry meat, but this has also resulted in the development of novel breast muscle (pectoralis major) degenerative myopathy, which lead 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 massive 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 the 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 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 the woody breast by measuring daily. To reduce woody breast prevalence, changes to the source occurred. Objective measures were taken daily (110 measures/15 minutes). Woody breast occurrence dropped to under 2%.
A primary poultry processor in the Southeast US used the CQR to monitor woody breasts in their plant. The plant experienced an average of 15% prevalence of woody breast. To reduce woody breast at the source, the CQR furnished data to monitor several hundred birds daily. The plant took 110 measures every 15 minutes, allowing them to have a statistical representative sample. Woody breast occurrence decreased to under 2%.