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Light and Meat
Color of Fresh Meat in Supermarket Display Cases

Color of Fresh Meat in Supermarket Display CasesThe color of fresh meat in supermarket display cases forms a first impression that strongly influences consumers' selection of fresh meat. The pigment myoglobin which determines the color of fresh meat undergoes various chemical reactions to form other pigments. These reactions are triggered by light, heat, and oxygen availability.

Temperature and Fresh Meat Color in Supermarket Meat Cabinets

E. coli BacteriaBeef displayed under PROMOLUX lamps and regular fluorescent lights with a PROMOLUX filter, which both block UV radiation, maintained virtually the same bright red color, fresh smell, low bacterial count, and low levels of metmyoglobin as beef stored in the dark, while beef displayed under a standard supermarket fluorescent light became brown and decomposed rapidly after only 12 days.

Temperatures above -1.5°C (29.3°F) encourage the exponential growth of bacteria, which consume the oxygen near the surface of the meat, hastening the creation of the brown pigment metmyoglobin.

Even small temperature increases have a profound effect on the growth of bacteria which leads to meat spoilage. Regular display case lighting emits heat, as well as radiation that is transformed into heat when it is trapped within the meat’s packaging, and can cause the surface temperature of displayed meat to be much higher than the temperature of the refrigerated display case.


pH and Fresh Meat Color in Grocery Store Meat Cabinets

The pH of fresh meat naturally falls from about 7 to about 5.5 over a period of 24 hours after the animal is slaughtered. However, genetic problems or mishandling of the animal or carcass can affect the pH of the muscle tissue adversely.

If the pH drops too rapidly or is at a very low level, the meat becomes pale, soft, and exudative (PSE), and if the pH does not drop at all or is at a high level, the meat becomes dark, firm, and dry (DFD). Dryness hinders the muscle tissue’s ability to absorb oxygen and bloom. These terms are often used to describe problems with pork.


PROMOLUX True Color Definition Lamps and LEDs

Deli equipment display lightingPROMOLUX balanced spectrum fluorescent lamps and LEDs emit lower levels of heat and ultraviolet radiation than regular grocery store fluorescent lamps, thus reducing the rate of meat decomposition. Compared to other fluorescent lighting, PROMOLUX lamps emit 86% lower UV B radiation, a shorter wavelength that penetrates and causes heating, and 52% lower UV A radiation, a longer wavelength that tends to affect surfaces.

Promolux lamps have a balanced spectrumPROMOLUX meat display case lamps and LEDs are also balanced for true color definition. The yellow and green wavelengths that are predominant in regular fluorescent lighting are the most damaging wavelengths in the visible spectrum.

PROMOLUX lamps and LEDs emit a more balanced range of wavelengths, including more of the red and blue wavelengths and more moderate levels of the yellow and green wavelengths, thus revealing the bright red color of blooming beef muscle without compromising the white of the fat and marbling.

Lighting sources have a profound effect on the perceived color of fresh meat.

Fresh Meat Displays

Regular supermarket meat display case lighting shortens the brief period when meat is blooming, turning it brown prematurely; increases the rate of bacterial growth; and distorts the meat’s natural color.

Modified atmosphere packaging controls the amount of oxygen surrounding the meat, but the transparent wrapping traps radiant heat from lighting which leads to dehydration and spoilage. <more...>

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other groups estimate that up to $1 billion in beef are wasted each year in the United States, a loss of four to five percent of the wholesale price, while in Canada it is estimated that $200 million are lost each year as a result of beef spoilage in supermarket meat departments. <more...>

Radiation from meat display case lighting leads to an increased rate of bacterial growth and decomposition in poultry displays. <more...>

Pork shelf life is limited more by discoloration than by spoilage. High surface temperatures accelerate discoloration and can lead to lipid oxidation of pork fats, causing the pork to become rancid. <more...>

Grinding meat and stirring in herbs exposes lean tissue and fat to light and oxygen, making the product susceptible to discoloration and rancidity. The color of cured meat is very unstable when exposed to ultraviolet light. <more...>

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