Classes of pork carcase quality according to the Community’s (S)EUROP classification system

The meat industry centers upon providing a service that meets all the preferences and requirements of its consumers. As consumer preferences differ and the demand for low fat meat and meat products increases, the EU has implemented a unique system to guarantee high quality of meat that is brought to South Africa.

Pork carcase classification system – (S)EUROP – was introduced in countries of the European Union in 1984. Classification of carcase is based, among other things, on modern computer technology, involving needle measurements of backfat thickness in certain parts of carcase and further calculations of lean meat content. Percentage of meat in a carcase, also referred to as meat content is defined as percentage of overall striated muscle weight in relation to the total carcase weight. It is important to carry out these measurements no later than 45 minutes after slaughter and only authorised classifiers are allowed to carry out this evaluation of meat content.

Pork that is imported from  Europe is marked with a letter which stands for the appropriate class or details of the percentage of lean meat content held within the cut. (e.g. “E” or “57.2%”). Each letter will signify the quality of the cut and as a result, the best possible use for that particular purchase. This classification is mandatory in European slaughterhouses, which slaughter over 200 animals per week, and which slaughtered over 10,400 pigs during their last operational year.

The class letters and their commercial uses are as follows:

Class S: HIGH QUALITY. This class of meat is not commonly available for sale. It is produced only on special requests and contains more than 60 % of lean meat.

Class E: GREAT CULINARY USABILITY. Class E pork contains 55- 60% of lean meat. Layer of backfat in pork carcase of class E should not be thicker than 12 mm.

Class U: VERY GOOD QUALITY. This cut contains 55 to 50% of meat, and 13-17mm of backfat. Swine from this class are farmed according to the standard EU farming and feeding systems.

Class R: GOOD QUALIITY. This cut contains 50- 45% of meat and thickness of backfat ranges between 18 and 22mm.

Class O: CUT FOR MEET PROCESSING. Class O contains 45- 40% of meat and the thickness of backfat ranges between 23-27mm.

Class P: CUT FOR MEET PROCESSING. Class P thickness of backfat goes above 27mm. Pork from this class contains less than 40% of meat.

Introduction of general, pork carcase classification system in the EU allows for clear definition of the commercial quality of produced meat. This unique food quality management system results in precise definition of the meat’s intended use and insurance that customers can identify the best cut for their own individual needs.