In this post, Mark gives you an idea of what goes down in his USDA plant where he makes his artisan salumi… and kicks off a quick lesson on some of what “happens” before your meat reaches the store. After this story, we will build on what this grading means for your pocketbook and taste-buds.
Inspection & grading are completely different programs that fall under the responsibility of the USDA.
American consumers can be confident that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the public health agency in the USDA, ensures that meat and poultry products are safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Factsheets/Inspection_&_Grading/index.asp
I process under federal inspection at Il Mondo Vecchio Salumi. A new inspector is rotated in every 6 months. Every day I am in production, a federal inspector (I.I.C./Inspector In Charge) stops by to check on things. Everything from our records to how we are handling product is under scrutiny. He checks and monitors cleanliness (so clean we sanitize the walls everyday) down to temperature and humidity and ensures that every hair is covered (I wear a hairnet on my beard!). It is a positive working relationship, and we both ensure that what we are doing is producing products in safe and sanitary manner providing wholesome products that will be eaten by the public.
USDA Federal Inspection is a mandatory inspection ensuring meat/poultry products are fit for human consumption.
All meat/poultry processed for commercial commerce (distributor/wholesale) is processed under Federal Inspection for wholesale/retail.
USDA Mark of Inspection Picture: http://www.extension.org/pages/27291/product-labeling
An easy way to explain this is that meats (fresh or further processed, like hot dogs) are safely prepared, in an approved USDA processing facility, by people that have handled the meat within the proper environment and in a timely fashion following HACCP guidelines. USDA regulations are consistent from border to border and sea to shining sea. From cutting to packaging to storing and shipping if all protocols have been properly followed the meat product is considered USDA Inspected & Passed. USDA processing facilities, both small and large, operate and have a federal inspector on site randomly throughout everyday of production Monday – Friday, 6am – 2:30pm. These hours are not negotiable, and certainly a far cry from my days as a restaurant chef where I would roll in at 2 am after a dinner shift.
Very few restaurants fall under the rigors of USDA Inspection. Restaurants and food-service establishments alike fall under the responsibility of the local county/state health department. A health inspector will stop by an establishment for an unannounced inspection every six months.
A voluntary program that most often times refers to a standardized level of quality attributes of meat (poultry, lamb, beef, pork, veal); marbling, size, shape, carcass yield, color and musculature just to name a few.
Basic examples and explanations are…Beef: Prime (highest grade), Choice (mid-range), Select (lowest grade). There are lower grades, but these are not available for retail purchase… they go for items like dog food.
- Lamb: Prime, Choice, Select. Very similar to beef grading relying heavily on marbling in the rib-eye area.
- Veal: Choice or Higher Grades are associated with color more so than marbling. Veal is very lean meat often times with little to no marbling whatsoever. The lighter whitish/pinkish the color, the higher the quality. The darker or more reddish the color, the lower the quality.
- Poultry: A, B, C
- Pork: 1, 2, 3, 4. Not actual grades these more refer to what the carcass will yield of meat.
Grading can also refer to the manner in which the animal or meat was raised, fed, or how it lived, as well may refer to which manner it was slaughtered/processed (such as religious).
The following Grade Claims and terms fall under USDA Grading:
- All Natural
- Pastured/Pasture Raised
- Free Range/Free Roaming/Range Fed
- Cage Free
- Not Fed Antibiotics
- Not Fed Animal By Products
- Corn Fed
- Grass Fed
- Religious Claims: Kosher or Halal