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Trends in Food Science & Technology
Volume 109, 2021, Pages 280-302

Total volatile basic nitrogen (TVB-N) and its role in meat spoilage: A review

Alaa El-Din A.Bekhita, Benjamin W.B.Holmanb, Stephen G.Giterua,c, David L.Hopkinsb

Department of Food Science, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.



Meat is a perishable product and during storage, the actions of microorganisms and endogenous enzymes result in chemical compositional changes. Total volatile basic nitrogen (TVB-N) is often used as a biomarker of protein and amine degradation. The broad adoption of TVB-N to interpret meat freshness is somewhat restricted. This is the result of limited or inconsistent knowledge pertaining to the association between TVB-N and other freshness parameters, for beef, sheep/goat meat, pork, chicken and other types of meat, especially when compared to fish. Current meat studies have failed to address the mechanisms between TVB-N generation and production, processing and preservation strategies.

Scope and approach

Etiology of spoilage and freshness indicators in fresh meat are discussed and various mechanisms contributing to meat spoilage are highlighted. Further, the use and application of TVB-N for understanding the freshness of different meat types has been comprehensively reviewed with the aim of establishing its usefulness as a freshness marker.

Key Findings and Conclusions

TVB-N increases with meat storage and is aligned with other biomarkers of spoilage (i.e. function of duration, temperature, packaging, etc.). But these increases are not always consistent. There are different recommendations of TVB-N limits for meat freshness. These are primarily for fish and seafood products and therefore inappropriate for other meat types, are species specific, arbitrary, or have an element of ambiguity (e.g. an intermediary ‘stale’ classification between fresh and spoilt states). The selection of TVB-N limits can therefore introduce inaccuracy and subjectivity into the appraisal of meat freshness. Several destructive and non-destructive methods have been used to determine TVB-N, however, their capacity is limited to the differential between spoilt and non-spoilt samples through chemometric classification systems based on predefined TVB-N guidelines. Further reference populations and investigations of red meat types are required.

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