Labels Take the Mystery Out of Shopping for Meat

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Meat and poultry provide consumers with a great source of high biological value protein as well as other key nutrients such as iron, thiamine, and zinc. However, they also provide a source of saturated fat and cholesterol, both linked to heart disease. It is possible to enjoy meat and poultry in your diet while also limiting saturated fat and calories but it requires accurate nutrition information. Unfortunately, vague meat labeling laws of the past have only required nutrition labels for products that included added ingredients such as marinades or sauces. The lack of complete information made figuring out the best and worst meat choices while shopping a navigational nightmare.
Beginning this month, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have implemented rules for packaged meat and poultry that will make informed shopping much easier and take the mystery out of meat shopping.

Instead of having to remember how much fat is allowed in government definitions of extra lean or lean meat, you can use a nutrition facts label. The label is required on most ground or chopped meat and poultry packages as well as 40 of the most popular whole and raw cuts of meat and poultry. If you don't see the labels on the packages check for nearby store displays to help you make an informed decision at the point of purchase.

The label includes the number of calories and grams of total fat and saturated fat as well as protein, cholesterol, sodium and iron levels, just like you find on other packaging. The intent for the labels is to provide consumers with consistent information that allows them to compare calorie and fat content between two cuts of the same meat such as pork chops. It will also allow consumers to compare nutritional information between different types of meat such as ground beef and ground turkey. This will make it easier to translate a lean statement (such 85% lean) into specific numbers and dietary influence. Currently the FSIS does not require nutrition labeling information for non-major cuts of meat or poultry when not ground or chopped. They will be examining the adequacy of the nutrition information provided for the major cuts of meat to assess the need to mandate nutrition information availability for them in the future.
So what can you expect to see? 
(Photo courtesy of USDA)

The label for a package of 95% lean ground beef with details that a 4 ounce serving (raw) contains 150 calories, 6 grams of fat and 70 mg of cholesterol compared to the same size serving of 90% lean ground beef that would offer 200 calories, 11 grams total fat and 75 mg of cholesterol. While the percentage of fat might not help you know to nutritional difference, the nutrition facts label certainly will.

Once you've selected your meat of choice, be sure to prepare and present it in a way that keeps it lean and healthy. For example:
  • Trim all visible fat before cooking or drain fat from browned meat before adding to a recipe.

  • Keep a 3-4 ounce portion size in mind when serving.

  • Use a moist heat method of cooking such as stewing or braising to prevent meat from becoming dry or tough.

  • When enjoying grilling, broiling or baking of meat, be sure to use an acidic-based marinade before cooking or brushed on during cooking.
Add herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of any meat to compliment your meal. For a Middle Eastern or Southwestern flare, use a spice blend of ground chilies, oregano, ground cumin, and garlic. If Asian is the order of the day, add fresh ginger, star anise, sesame seeds, and hot pepper sauce. You can also take a more savory route and mix Dijon or course grain mustard with marjoram, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Any of these blends with a citrus juice like fresh lemon or lime or mixed with vinegar such as balsamic, red wine or apple cider will create a great tasting and unique flavor without additional fat or carbohydrates to your meal.

What do you think about these new labels? Are they helpful and necessary or simply government measures with little benefit?

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As a Canadian I am shocked to find out about this. We have had this information for years on our packaged meat. I took it for granted that our American neibourg had them too! This is one of the best example of how regulations are needed and how government takes consumers interests and provides protection. Report
It is a great idea. I would like to see all companies disclose to all food products if the 'pink slime' is an ingredient. Report
I saw on the CBS News last night that they were not going to require grocery chains to state if there is pink slime or not. Only the schools. Think I might change to vegan or vegitarian. That report just really grossed me out. Ammonia in pink slime---really???? Report
It would be nice if listing the amount of potassium were also required! Report
Labels definitely help when deciding what to purchase and for tracking our food. How we prepare the food once we get home is just as important. You can have a healthy protein to begin with and ruin it with your preparation method. Report
But does it tell you about the pink slime. After all, McDonalds advertised 100% fresh ground beef. They didn't mention the water in it either. Report
It's about darn time! I've asked at the meat counter several times for nutrition info and they never had it. Also trying to find it online was a nightmare, because when I did find anything (and it was hard), the info I found varied significantly. I do think our government "meddles" a lot in places they shouldn't, but providing information to the general public, especially on something like the food you put in your body, is a needed public service. Report
I have not bought meat/poultry/fish in a conventional store in over 5 years now, choosing to support small, sustainable local farmers/fishermen and improve the chances that my family is getting safe, healthful animal protein. Interesting to see that nutrition labels are moving to the butcher section - not entirely convinced it will make a difference, certainly not in the food safety of CAFO meat.... Report
I am pleased with the labeling because it helps with my journalling. No, it's not totally accurate but at least gives me a ballpark figure when calculating my recipes. Report
I buy the cow, literally. We get our beef from a local farmer. We pay him based on the weight of the cow, usually $2 / lb. We go to the butcher, specify the exact cuts for steaks, roasts, etc. We also specify how we want our ground beef (ie. No added fat). It is a sizable investment on the front end, but we save tons of money doing it this way. We also know how and where the cattle were fed and raised. Buy local!! Report
A step in the right direction! Report
It's nice, but not great. First off, till USDA makes it necessary to indicate if beef, for instance, has filler, the label is still incomplete, not say inaccurate.

I'll go on shopping at my local farm-friend! May not know all the nutritional details, but I know where the animal spent its life, how it lived, and all that REALLY important stuff. Report
Sorry but I can't see how they can blanket say that this particular piece of meat will have the characteristics listed on the label. Its not the same as something that was manufactured- I doubt they analyse every single carcass. Report
I'm very happy to see this, and, you know, I'm NOT at all annoyed to have the government mandating that companies provide information that facilitates making an informed decision as to what I put in my body.
I like knowing what I am putting into my body. If I decided to eat 2 servings of meat or poultry, I love the idea of knowing how much fat, calories, cholesterol, etc I am consuming. Is it an exact science? No. I don't think anyone expects it be exact, but its much, much better than not knowing. If regulation makes me a better informed consumer, im all for it. Report
So I guess some of you would prefer no governmental regulations? So you would be ok not knowing if the place that you got your food from was safe and sanitary? you would be ok not knowing if the food you ate was really what it was labeled as? I think we need more regulations until we can completely irradicate ecoli and salmonella. I want to know that the people that grow, raise and package our foods have some sort of accountability to someone. With no government regulations they are accountable to no one Report
We are meat eaters and I am happy to know more about the cotent of the product and especially the service size and nutrients.
I am assuming the others enjoy referring to food as pink slime I thought that was quite offensive and un necessary, I have no problem with interventions that give me a better description of the product. If the food suppliers prefer not to give us the facts I am happy to have the regulators make sure the facts are there and correct. I want to know what I am eating not just take it at face value. Report
I read labels and I want to know what is in the food I serve my family. I don't want the FDA to decide what is "safe" for me to eat. I want to know what is in the food and I will decide what is "safe" for my family to eat. Pink slime is not something I would choose to eat. I think we all deserve a choice. Report

Actually "pink slime" has an awesome nutritional composition. I'd totally eat it. Check out a sample label, here:

It's far superior to mechanically separated poultry (where they don't remove the fat)

As long as the grams of protein x 10 is equal to or more than the number of calories, I'm pretty happy with something as a protein source.

So yes, I welcome nutrition facts labels on my meat. Report
What about this "pink slime"?????? Report
Most people don't bother to read labels. Report
Great article!
Keep in mind that eating red meat *at all* really raises your risk of cancer, kidney disease, and all those things that hurt our health as we age. I love to eat beef, but I limit my intake to grass fed, organic beef which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, overall lower in unhealthy fats, and which doesn't carry the same health risks as industrial produced beef. Because it's more expensive (but worth it! And it reflects the real cost of raising cattle sustainably), I end up eating less of it--better for my health there, too. (I found a family that raises cattle entirely outdoors in Oregon, and slaughters it safely and humanely on their range. I buy from them, CSA-style. It's much less expensive than grocery-store grass fed beef.)
More great articles on healthy ways for us meat eaters to enjoy it in sustainable, healthy ways, please!
It's ok... but I buy a cheaper cut/ground meat... and drain or cut off all the fat so I really don't know the amt of fat when I get done preparing it. I like dark meat chicken, so I buy a cheaper bag of thighs/legs. I take off all the skin, cut off visible fat and cook it without fat. I buy the cheaper ground beet, drain off all the fat and then pour boiling water over it to get rid of more fat. So, I have no clue at the end truly what my meat contains. I just guess between 50-75 calories per oz.

And I agree.... I don't like more government regulation. This isn't perfect. And then you have to have quality control to be sure the people doing the labeling are accurate... Like where do you stop. I wish they could get the product makers to CUT THE SODIUM. If they are to do anything.... Report
This is a good idea. But, I think it is going to be partly why the price goes up. I didn't know how much cholesterol was flooding my system when eating meat. I almost said the heck with it and tossed it out the window with breads, crackers, grains etc...which would have left me with just fruit and vegetables. In which case I would always be hungry and hitting the wall with the workouts. Report
Although I like the being able to see what I buying, it is just more government regulation (which I am opposed to). Report
Now if they would make them put on the label if the product contains "pink slime." Report
Excellent idea because it now becomes very easy to see the nutritional content of meat purchased. Anyone watching their diet can easily obtain data required for calories/nutritional values. Report
I think this is a great idea. Report
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