Meat bars are dried snacks containing a mixture of meat, berries, and nuts. To explore consumer awareness of meat bars, we conducted two online, nationally representative surveys and established that 70.8% (743 of 1,050) of U.S. citizens were unfamiliar with this product. When asked to check all answers that applied, most of the 545 respondents (who were recruited based on their familiarity with meat bars) preferred beef (n = 385) as the protein source, followed by chicken (n = 293), pork (n = 183), and turkey (n = 179). Most meat bars were purchased from grocery stores (n = 447), followed by online orders (n = 130) and outdoor stores (n = 120). When asked specifically whether they made their own meat bars, 17.8% of respondents (97 of 545) replied “yes,” the majority (52 of 97, 54%) of which obtained recipes online. Some 69.1% (67 of 97) measured the internal temperature of the meat during dehydration, but only 10.3% (10 of 97) confirmed the internal temperature by using a thermometer. Given the paucity of information available on the fate of pathogenic or spoilage bacteria associated with meat bars, as another component of this study, batter was prepared with or without encapsulated citric acid (ECA; 0.74%) added to a formulation of ground beef (65%; 90% lean, 10% fat), chopped pecans (15%), golden flaxseed flour (9.7%), chopped cranberries (5.0%), chopped sunflower seeds (3.1%), sea salt (1.1%), black pepper (0.8%), and celery powder (0.35%). Batter was inoculated (ca. 6.5 log CFU/g) with Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC), portioned by hand (40 ± 0.1 g each), and then dried in a commercial dehydrator. Regardless of the drying treatment, inclusion of ECA in the batter resulted in a pH decrease from ca. 5.5 to ca. 4.7 to 5.0 in the finished product. Without ECA, when meat bars were dried at 62.8°C for 6 h, 71.1°C for 4 h, or 62.8°C for 2 h and then 71.1°C for 2 h, levels of STEC decreased by ca. 6.2, 6.3, or 5.2 log CFU/g, respectively. With ECA, STEC decreased by ca. 6.0, 6.6, or 6.0 log CFU/g in meat bars dried at 62.8°C for 6 h, 71.1°C for 4 h, or 62.8°C for 2 h and then 71.1°C for 2 h, respectively. Our results confirmed that a ≥5.0-log reduction in STEC could be achieved in meat bars formulated with or without ECA under all dehydration conditions tested.

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