Preslaughter stress and muscle energy largely determine pork quality at two commercial processing plants

E. Hambrecht, J.J. Eissen, R.I.J. Nooijen, B.J. Ducro, C.H.M. Smits, L.A. den Hartog, M.W.A. Verstegen

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99 Citations (Scopus)


The objective of the present experiment was to study physiological changes elicited in response to stress in the immediate preslaughter period and to link them to pork quality characteristics. Crossbred, halothane-free pigs (n = 192) were processed in eight groups (24 pigs per group) on various days at one of two commercial processing plants operating different stunning systems (electrical and CO2 stunning in Plants A and B, respectively). In each group, half the pigs were exposed to either minimal or high preslaughter stress. Blood samples were taken at exsanguination, and lactate, cortisol, and catecholamines, as well as blood pH and temperature, were assessed and linked to various longissimus muscle quality attributes. Additionally, muscle pH and temperature were measured 30 min postmortem, and muscle glycolytic potential was determined 22 h postmortem. At both processing plants, high preslaughter stress resulted in higher (P <0.05) blood cortisol and lactate; however, the effects of preslaughter stress on catecholamines and blood pH were believed to be biased by the different stunning methods employed at the plants. High preslaughter stress increased (P <0.05) blood temperature at Plant A but not at Plant B. At both plants, high stress increased (P <0.05) 30-min muscle temperature and decreased (P <0.05) 30-min muscle pH. Ultimate pH was increased (P <0.05) and muscle glycolytic potential was decreased (P <0.05) by high preslaughter stress. At both plants, high stress resulted in inferior pork quality attributes (P <0.05), including reflectance, electrical conductivity, filter paper moisture, drip loss, and L* value. The effect of stress was greater on water-holding capacity than on pork color, with drip losses increased by 56%. Of all stress indicators measured at exsanguination, only blood lactate was strongly correlated with pork quality attributes. Regression analyses revealed that blood lactate and glycolytic potential accounted for 52 and 48% of the variation in drip loss and L* value, respectively. In combination with high preslaughter stress, high glycolytic potentials were related to increased drip losses. We conclude that high preslaughter stress leads to impaired pork quality, with high muscle energy levels aggravating the negative effects of preslaughter stress. Monitoring stress level by blood lactate measurement in combination with strategies to control muscle energy present at slaughter may help to improve meat quality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1401-1409
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • meat quality
  • pre-slaughter
  • longissimus muscle
  • stunning method
  • hampshire pigs
  • plasma
  • indicators
  • glycolysis
  • cortisol
  • populations

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