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Cutting for profit

Grandmother’s days are gone: fatty, marbled roasts don’t interest consumers nearly as much anymore. Today, the best cuts of beef or pork must be lean in order to land in the shopping cart. This means that they must be presented with no visible fat, sinew or membrane, either at the meat counter or in the package. Mechanical membrane skinning is thus a necessary step in preparing meat to sell and achieving optimal yield.

Recent years have seen structural changes that have completely changed consumer lifestyles. These developments are resulting in new eating habits and different shopping behavior. Demand is increasingly determined by decreasing family size, continually increasing numbers of single households and compared to the past, distinctly higher consumer demands on product quality.

From the consumer’s point of view, a piece of lean fresh meat with no visible sinew, skin, membrane or rind is of recognizably higher quality. Thus, to optimally cut and prepare pieces of meat and roast for the sales counter, undesired fat and membrane layers must be removed. Over the course of time, this demand on quality has constantly increased and influenced the meat-producing branch in many ways. Butcher shops – like other branches as well – have had to look for new manners of adapting their offers to the higher expectations of customers. New machines and technologies were required, including the mechanical membrane skinners that began to be used in the 1970s.

Pioneer work

Membrane skinning is defined as the removal of the membrane and all connected sinews from the meat surface. This technology originated in France, where traditionally, a great deal of horse meat is eaten. This meat is surrounded by extremely stiff membranes that must be removed before preparation. Thus, there was very early demand by the French for machines that could simplify this work for the traîteur. More and more frequently, other types of meat also began to be skinned, including beef, veal, pork and venison. This has enormously increased the profitability of meat sales, especially of high-quality cuts.

Against this backdrop, mechanical engineering company Maja’s (Kehl, Germany) geographic proximity to France was highly beneficial: as an international manufacturer of butcher machines, Maja took advantage of its years of experience in the area of derinding machines to begin its first experiments with membrane skinners in the 1970s. At first, conventional manual derinders were used. It was quickly clear that their coarsely interlocked tooth rollers were too aggressive to remove the fine meat membrane. This meant that the machines had to be reconstructed and adapted to the special requirements. In 1977, success came at last: Maja marketed its first generation of series membrane skinners.

Greater added value

Machine developments required new thinking about cutting technology. Whereas in the past, meat pieces had only been roughly cut, the fat removed and the meat cut into smaller pieces in front of the customer’s eyes in the store, now, the highest priority is economically cutting meats into small pieces before it reaches the meat counter.

To achieve optimal yield during mechanical membrane skinning, anatomical cutting is recommended. This means that the meat pieces are cut in the membrane. In Germany, the trend to mechanical membrane skinning has only gradually prevailed.

Although it is not entirely proven from the history of the Maja factory, the company’s slogan “Technology for the Future” may have developed as a result of the 1970s, when many a traditional butcher considered mechanical membrane skinning to be simply “new-fangled nonsense”. Prejudices against this new procedure only receded over the course of time.

But the industry, which was constantly searching for automation techniques and possibilities to create added value, rapidly recognized the benefits.

Today, hardly any manufacturer can do without membrane skinning before processing pork pieces to cooked ham.

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