USDA takes guesswork out of steak-shopping


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Your grocery store’s meat section just got a healthy makeover. Appropriately in sync with National Nutrition Month, a new USDA law goes into effect today requiring nutrition labeling for ground, as well as popular cuts of, meat and poultry.

Since 1993, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has required nutrition labeling for meat products that are cooked or contain multiple ingredients, such as marinades or stuffing.

From now on, ground meat and poultry and 40 popular cuts — including steaks, pork chops, lamb, veal and chicken breasts/wings — will be slapped with a label revealing the products’ calories, total fat and saturated fat, as well as protein, cholesterol, sodium and iron.

Example of nutrition labeling for meat from the USDA Blog (click to visit blog)

The amount of trans fat is not required on the packaging, though the USDA estimates that 75% to 80% of nutrition labels choose to list this information anyway, according to WebMD. Check out the label example to the right from the USDA’s blog.

If the packaging doesn’t include this label, or if the meat is being cut and sold at a butcher shop, the retailer must display a poster with the nutritional information next to the product. Additionally, if a ground meat/poultry product boasts the lean meat percentage (e.g., “85% lean”), it also must reveal the fat percentage (e.g., “15% fat”). Small meat-grinding businesses are required to provide the lean and fat percentages but are exempt from the other aspects of the rule, as long as they don’t make any other nutritional claims.

“Consumers should note that 29 cuts of beef, pork and lamb are considered lean,” said J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, in a statement. “A 3-oz. serving of meat or poultry contains between 160 and 200 calories and contains all nine essential amino acids. That is why meat is considered a ‘complete protein.’”


Watching your cholesterol?
Red meat isn’t off the table.

In January, a study contradicted the common belief that red meat is off limits for those watching their cholesterol; in fact, it revealed that a well-rounded diet, complete with lean beef, might actually lower cholesterol just as effectively as a sans-beef diet. The USDA’s new labeling rule can help those watching their cholesterol choose the right cuts for their diet. Click here to read about the study.


What cuts are lean?
For a list of cuts of meat that “make the cut” for lean beef labeling, in order from least to most fat content, click here.


More info
If you have questions about the new labels or other food safety issues, you can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. Or, if you prefer to read up on the new rule yourself, click here to access the full document from the Federal Register.