Muscle pH

These carcases do not meet the MSA requirement for ultimate pH values to be below 5.70. pH is a key factor in determining meat quality and is often associated with dark meat colour.


What is pH?

Muscle pH is a measure of acidity and alkalinity, measured on a scale of 0-14. The pH of muscle in a live animal is almost neutral at 7.1. The optimum pH of meat is less than 5.70, which is slightly acidic.

When an animal is slaughtered, brain function and circulation are stopped but muscle continues to metabolise energy (known as glycolysis). The process of glycolysis produces lactic acid and energy that cause pH to decline. Once the pH decline has ceased, the ultimate pH is achieved and measured during grading.

The amount of energy stored as glycogen in muscle affects the ultimate pH. If there is only a small amount of muscle glycogen present pre-slaughter, then only a small amount of lactic acid can be formed which may not be enough to reduce the pH to the required level.


What impacts on pH?

To prevent high pH levels, stress should be minimised.

Animals can be stressed by factors such as exposure to harsh weather conditions, poor transport and excessive periods without feed or water. Pre-slaughter stress, including on property handling, transport and abattoir (lairage) stresses, also affect glycogen levels. When an animal is frightened or put under excessive pressure, the energy or glycogen in the muscles is rapidly used in a ‘flight or fight’ response.

Once glycogen levels are depleted, only a small amount of lactic acid can be formed, resulting in higher pH levels. The animal must eat high energy feed again to restore the glycogen levels in the muscle, which can take up to 14 days.


Doing it better next time:

Improving muscle pH

Effect of pH on beef eating quality

MSA on-farm management checklist


Learn more about:

Factors influencing pH

Impact of feed supplementation on muscle pH

Breed and feed effects on muscle pH

Impact of season on muscle pH