A guide to the USDA meat stamp

Decoding Your Meat: A Guide to USDA Beef Labels Beef in Plastic Packaging

A Guide to the USDA Meat Stamp

 What Do These Stamps Mean?

Meat inspection is a mandatory part of the meat industry in the United States. However, the questions of who inspects the meat, what this stamp means, and what is approved or not still may remain as a question with this fact.

In the U.S., is meat inspection required?

Meat processing - Labels and standards Detection and destruction of diseased meat and or contaminated meat

The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) requires all commercially sold meat to be inspected and labeled properly. Meat inspections assure the consumer the meat they purchase is safe and clean for human consumption at the point at which it is purchased. This includes the inspection of the live animal, carcass, internal organs, plant facilities where it is processed, equipment, personnel, and transportation. Therefore, it is imperative that meat and meat products are unadulterated or misbranded.

How to grade beef: prime, choice, and selection?

While grading beef is optional and voluntary after beep passes inspection, not all grades are the same. There are eight quality grades within the meat grading system, and they are from best to worst: Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner. However, most consumers are familiar with the top three grades Prime, Choice, and Select.

How The USDA Grades Your Steak, Know the difference between USDA  Prime, Choice, and Select Beef
USDA Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle

USDA Prime Grade

USDA Prime is the highest quality grade, with a small percentage of total cattle numbers achieving this grade. The minimum degree of marbling required for carcasses of this grade is "Slightly Abundant." These are the highest-priced cuts and are typically sold at restaurants or "full service" cases at grocery or butcher stores.

Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. It has at least a Small amount of marbling.

USDA Choice Grade

USDA Choice is the second highest quality grade and is the most frequently produced. This grade has a minimum degree of marbling and is graded when marbling is "Small." This cut is very tender and juicy and makes up the largest group of carcasses.

Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. It has at least a Slight amount of marbling.

USDA Select Grade

USDA Select is the second most frequently quality grade produced and has a minimum amount of marbling as determined by "Slight." This cut tends to be leaner both internally and externally and is commonly found in retail stores as the "common" beef purchased for everyday use.


How is the grade of beef determined?

USDA beef grades are determined based on the animal's maturity when harvested and the amount of intramuscular fat (marbling) in the surface of the ribeye muscle seen between the 12th and 13th ribs. While most cattle in large facilities are processed between 9-30 months of age, the marbling is the determining factor in the quality grade.

USDA Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle
Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. It has at least a Small amount of marbling.
Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. It has at least a Slight amount of marbling.


USDA Quality Grade comes from the amount of marbling observed at one location within the carcass across every cut of meat from that carcass. Therefore, marbelization is important as it gives the beef tenderness and added flavor.

As the animal matures (ages), the meat becomes tougher and leaner, so the cattle's age dictates the beef's tenderness. Thus, the USDA grade showcases the quality of the beef based on the grade and the amount of usable lean meat when the beef is graded.  

What does beef grade not tell you?

The meat itself, some factors are not considered by the USDA. This includes factors of the animal's diet, including grass-fed or grain-finished and if the animal was raised in a pasture or not.

Beef grades, while they do offer some information on the meat itself, some factors are not considered by the USDA. This includes factors of the animal's diet, including grass-fed or grain-finished and if the animal was raised in a pasture or not.


In addition, it is important to note that grass-finished beef will not be graded under Prime as they are leaner and do not achieve the USDA's Prime Grade requirements for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor.

Types of Meat Inspection stamps your products may need

Inspect mark on raw beef, pork, lamb and goat
Raw Meat

Inspection mark on raw meat from beef, pork, lamb, or goat. 

Inspect mark on raw and processed poulty
Poultry

Inspection mark on poultry that is raw or processed.

Inspect mark on processed beef, pork, lamb and goat
Packated and processed meat

Inspection mark on packaged and processed meat containing beef, pork, lamb, and/or goat. 

Understanding Meat Stamps

While it may seem daunting to understand what the USDA inspection stamp means, we hope this article has given insight into what it means and how and why it is used. CarePac is here to answer any further questions you have about the USDA meat inspection stamp and its use on packaging.


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