Space probe helps maintain quality of Spanish ham

Spanish food manufacturers are using technology developed to measure the way in which body fluids move around an astronaut’s body in low gravity to test the quality of cured ham.

Joints of meat awarded the coveted ‘jamon’ label are subject to a rigid battery of quality control tests designed to weed out so-called PSE (pale, soft and exudative) specimens before they hit the market.

Experts claim to be able to determine whether a ham is good enough simply by appearance, touch and smell, but the central criterion of water content has always been hard to assess with the naked eye.

One solution that ham producer Esteban Espuna is incorporating in its new production lines takes advantage of technology usually used to see how the human body responds to microgravity conditions.

The technique, developed by Spanish engineering company NTE as part of the European Space Agency’s technology research programme, was originally designed to monitor the fluid shift that occurs in an astronaut's body during spaceflight. An instrument measures the upward drift of body liquids by applying a low electrical current to the subject's body and analyzing its exit.

Esteban Espuna’s detection tool uses the same approach to pick out hams that fail to comply with specified quality parameters. These are then removed from the production line and used to produce boiled hams. The company says the space-derived technology has helped it to increase profits at a rate of 3 per cent a year.

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