The Answer to How Safe is Your Ground Beef? is VERY!

Much is a buzz over the Consumer Reports article How Safe is Your Beef? where 300 samples of retail ground were analyzed for bacteria between grass and grain fed beef highlighting best results as “sustainable” beef.

When a CBS Morning News anchor asked Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D. & Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety & Sustainability at Consumer Reports, “Shouldn’t we suspect some bacteria in any beef?”, her answer was all telling, “Absolutely”. So, what’s the beef with ground?

Buedel Fine MeatsPictured above: Three different headlines tell the same story. Kudos to CBS News (center) for taking the high road!

Getting the Facts Straight

Let’s get one thing straight: all raw meat has bacteria on it. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) documents the following:

1. Some of that bacteria [found in the report] such as certain types of Enterococci, are not pathogens and are actually beneficial like probiotics in yogurt. Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus aureus are typically associated with time and temperature abuse of cooked products and generally come from contamination after food is handled. All bacteria, antibiotic resistant or not, are killed with proper cooking to the recommended temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. The bacteria identified in the Consumer Reports testing is not the bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and generic E. coli are commonly found in the environment and are not pathogenic bacteria, meaning they do not cause foodborne illness. The primary pathogens of concern in raw ground beef are Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). These are not mentioned or reported in their findings.

3. The number one industry priority is producing the safest meat and poultry possible. This is done by focusing attention on bacteria which are most likely to make people sick, particularly E. coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. It is telling that Consumer Reports did not highlight finding these bacteria on products they tested as a strong indication of the overall safety of beef.

It’s also important to note Consumer Reports did not approach the industry for scientific data on the subject material nor make their data available to the industry for evaluation.

Safety in Numbers

Rangan went on to say, “The question here is, can we get it better?”

NAMI says the Consumer Reports data is staggeringly inconsistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) data which shows that E. coli O157:H7 occurs at a rate of less than one tenth of one percent in ground beef products. This has been reduced 93 percent since 2000.

You’d think a 90+ percentage improvement rate should be something to talk about. But the report makes no mention of that, or the highly regulated nature of the industry when it comes to food safety to begin with.

Federal compliance via on site inspectors takes place daily in meat plants to ensure food safety rules and technologies used to destroy bacteria are all in place and working. Some companies, like Buedel, also add a third layer of independent audits to their safety protocols.

Between regulating agencies and the industry itself, what kind of ‘better’ is Ms. Rangan really angling for here?

Cause Reporting

Throughout the news segment, Rangan compared each study finding between conventional beef [grain fed] and non-conventional beef [“sustainable, organic, natural and grass-fed”] to demonstrate conventional beef always had more bacteria.

NAMI also points out the use of, “Organic, Natural and Grass-fed are marketing terms that are not an accurate indicator of either sustainability or safety. All beef production models can be sustainable. The path to more sustainable beef is to ensure that every beef producer is utilizing the resources available in their part of the country to the best of their ability – whether grass, grain or other locally-produced renewable feeds like distillers grains.”

A quick visit to the Consumer Reports Facebook page reveals an ulterior agenda:

Buedel Fine MeatsFor those of you who aren’t familiar, Consumers Union (CU), is the non-profit “policy and action division” of Consumer Reports – a magazine published by Consumers Union. CU describes themselves as, “an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.

Herein lies a huge problem for readers today, when cause masquerades as media.

To be an ‘expert’ in anything you need to have a deep command of the knowledge base on all fronts. This article is filled with quotes from Consumer Reports own department heads, Grass-fed cattle farmers, and an epidemiologist from the CDC.

There were no quotes from actual food scientists (federal or corporate) nor grain fed cattle farmers, food retailers, industry media, leaders, professional groups and the like. Talking to the Department of Agriculture should have been a slam dunk at the very least.

There is also no mention of the politically based Facebook post in the online published article either. Other than this social nudge: We urge you to #BuyBetterBeef and continue the conversation with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Vine.

Wrap Up

If you’re still not sure whether How Safe is Your Ground Beef? is a valued news or views piece, perhaps their article disclaimer will help:

Editor’s Note: Funding for this project was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Any views expressed are those of Consumer Reports and its policy and advocacy arm, Consumers Union and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The takeaway on this is threefold: 1) Food safety is alive and well in the beef industry. 2) Always cook your beef to 160°. 3) Beware of expert media crusading cause.

Additional Reads & Resources

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Meat Merchandising │Next & Best Outlooks with Catie Beauchamp

The daughter of a hog farmer, Catie Beauchamp says she always knew she wanted to be in “AG” when she grew up. Today she is the VP of Technical Services at Colorado Premium, with a Ph.D. in Meat Safety & Quality.

Beauchamp’s3.18CPstaffpic (2) command of the beef production chain is highly astute, which includes, animal transport, harvest, carcass chilling, fabrication, grinding and storage. Her expertise in food technologies and safety is rivaled only by a laser focused passion for creating the best products for her customers.

How did you actually get into the “meat business”?

I knew I always wanted to be involved with agriculture, but on the nutrition side, which is what I started with in college. Then along the way, you meet people – in food microbiology and food production. That is how I came to do my graduate work in food science, meat science, and meat microbiology.

What do your days look like now?

From a departmental perspective, we do quality assurance, food safety, regulatory compliance, tech support for customers and R&D. We work in a high energy environment. When I started at CP [six years ago] we had 80-100 people and one production facility. Now we have three production facilities and two storage facilities. At any given time we have 30 projects in process. Our rate of commercialization is about 50% – it’s incredible!

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite area would be R&D. It’s fun to look into the future. You’re getting constant challenges, and when you resolve it, it’s a win. I love to create new products.

How do you do that with meat?

What we’re dealing with is an animal is that’s getting bigger and bigger. We have to address: How do we cut that? How should we process that? What do we need to do to have a good plate experience? You have to look at different cuts of meat in the carcass. There are other things we can use for things you wouldn’t expect.

For example, thin meats [flan3.19 CP Antimicrobial Interventionks, inside and outside skirts] are expensive, yet popular – but there’s only so much to be had because it’s such a small portion of the carcass. We can create new thin meats from other muscles that can mimic traditional thin meats. Skirts are expensive because they are in high demand and come from the small portion of the carcass. (Pictured Above: Antimicrobial Intervention Cabinet at one of Colorado Premium’s production facilities.)

Is it possible to come up with new steak cuts – like the Vegas Steak?

Yes, and no. The muscles without a lot of defects are pretty well known, but there should be a couple more ‘Vegas Steaks’ possible.

The combinations of muscles are standard in the Meat Buying Guide, but for a Packer to create a whole new SKU, break the muscles differently, etc., there has to be a market for it. You need to be able to merchandise all of it, plus find new ways to produce value.

From a steak perspective, the new novel items are going to have to be addressed in ways they haven’t been before, we need to look at fabricating. In addition to proper aging, tenderizing and injections, we’re going to have to look outside the box for processing.

Injection is a hot trend, how does that work from a production standpoint?

We marinate a lot of products, whether it’s tumble margination or injection. We do it for retail and food service. From a retail perspective, we provide products that are cook ready. From a food service perspective, we’re giving a little bit of insurance to meat drying out when cooked, especially for less than prime products.

How many speci3.19 PORK ROAST 2 - CITRUS HERBal service requests are you getting?

It depends on what market sector you’re talking about. In food service, restaurant groups are constantly reinventing themselves to stay competitive, usually on an annual basis. We work with a lot of up and coming concepts; our food service customers want to be on top of what’s new and available. (Pictured Left: Citrus Herb Pork Roast exclusively developed for a private label customer.)

In retail, the Millennials have impacted our business in a big way – they want clean labels, have more adventurous palettes, etc. Low sodium, clean labels and animal handling are key issues.

What is your definition of a ‘clean label’?

There are two sides to that question; one is the actual protein product itself. A portion of the population is interested in the use of antibiotics in animal feeding, etc. However, that’s still at a niche level and cost is also prohibitive for a lot of consumers.

The second part speaks to an ingredient perspective: people want to see things familiar to them on a retail package. (Food service is now adopting to that too.) Some ingredients are preservatives, some are for shelf life, but there’s also antimicrobials that ensure safety. Helping our customer base understand the purpose of antimicrobials is important to food safety.

What are your expectations on cattle supply?

As we start increasing the cattle supply we’ll be looking at something different – you still have areas in your prime states that don’t have water, plus other weather interferences that occur. There are people being weeded out of production groups that may never come back.

It’s very hard to project what volumes we’re going to have. The historical trends, peaks, and valleys can be thrown off trend, even when supply and demand are better. When consumers are paying higher prices, we need to produce healthy and affordable proteins. We have to get really good at how we merchandise beef.

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The Latest on Finely Textured Beef

The Wall Street Journal called me last month for thoughts on a piece they were doing regarding the resurgence of finely textured beef (aka “pink slime”) in answer to rising beef prices.

Back in August of 2012,img-learn-packaging-overwrap we addressed the potential future impact on the industry due to the pink slime hysteria ignited by the media on consumer markets. (Read 1 of 10 Things (at the very least) the Foodservice Industry DOES want you to know.)

Thousands of good working people ultimately lost their jobs at companies producing Finely Textured Beef (FTB) who were forced to shut down from an avalanche of cancelled orders due to the misguided media frenzy. What made the situation even more exasperating was the fact that these production processes were USDA approved. All laws and regulations were followed, but it was the processors that bore the immediate brunt of the fallout.

When this occurred, the beef industry was experiencing its lowest herd numbers since 1955 due to drought, and the impact of removing FTB from the food supply required a substantially large amount of additional cattle to fill the demand gap for ground beef.

It was more than logical to predict these effects would likely drive up cattle futures and eventually the price of ground beef for all of us.

How Much is Too Much?

Before the pink slime hysteria in 2012, the average price of 100% ground beef in 2011 was $2.78/lb as per the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has been tracking ground beef prices since 1984. By May 2014, the average price of 100% ground beef was $3.85/lb, a 38% price increase compared to the 2% average annual rate of inflation in the United States. Just last weekend, a friend of mine told me she paid almost $5/lb. for 80/20 ground beef at her local grocery store. Consumers, retailers and regrill imagesstaurateurs are all paying much more now for ground beef.

Ground beef is the most bought and consumed type of beef by far. With that in mind, combined with the fact that beef prices are at record highs, it’s no wonder that finely textured beef is indeed making a comeback.  Retailers and consumers, perhaps now more properly educated on the subject, are purchasing products that include FTB in the ingredients.

FTB is currently sold to over 400 retail, food-service and food-processing customers, more than before the 2012 controversy, albeit overall in smaller amounts. Production of finely textured beef has also recently doubled at some manufacturing plants from its low point after the controversy.

Environmentally Sound

The production process for finely textured beef recovers lean beef from steak and roast fat trimmings that would otherwise be wasted. It is made the same way the dairy industry makes cream by using centrifugal force to separate the cream from milk. Cargill posted an easy to follow video outlining the start to finish process early this year; watch it here.

ftbThe maximized use of harvested animals, further popularized by “nose-to-tail” culinary trends, also makes the most of the limited natural resources used to produce beef. Conversely, in a market free of FTB, the following occurs: 1.5M more head of cattle are needed to fill the gap, 10.5M more acres of land is used for grazing those cattle, 375B more gallons of water is utilized to feed and process the cattle and 97M more bushels of corn is needed to feed them, which is grown on 600K more acres of land.

Wrap Up

On the surface, the return of FTB to the market would seem to indicate retailers and consumers are more concerned about cost than method. The good news is, environmentally sound USDA approved beef practices, which produce quality ground beef at better prices, is back.

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Doing Business with Avendra

What comes to mind when you think about hotels and restaurants? Atmosphere? Menu? Price? Activities? Certainly the last thing is Supply Chain Management (SCM).

SCM may not be sexy, but it is a critical component to the hospitality industry. Avendra provides the SCM oil that helps many restaurants and hospitality providers run at optimum performance levels – and they’ve made it an art form. Their business reach includes procurement services, labor and cost management, strategic solutions and quality assurance – that’s where we come in to this story.

Absolute Assurance

Buedel is the Midwest meat purveyor for Avendra’s hotel, food service and restaurant clients. We were just awarded their Certificate of Delivery Excellence as a result of their Meet the Truck audit program.

AwardMeet the Truck audits occur throughout the year at hundreds of customer locations across the country – on a surprise basis. The Avendra audit team meets vendor delivery trucks unannounced to analyze safety protocols, equipment condition, product integrity, punctuality and overall performance. The criteria are complied, submitted for review and vendors receive a copy of the audit report with recommendations for improvement where/when warranted.

Avendra’s quality assurance programs are rigorous to say, the least. In 2013, there were 1,169 Meet the Truck audits performed at more than 369 customer delivery points. The company also performs price audits and hundreds of ongoing audits at manufacturing plants and distribution centers to maintain superior quality levels for their customers. Over the course of a year, Buedel was surprise audited three times, and I am proud to say we scored 100% each time.

Comprehensive Coverage

In addition to quality assurance, procurement, et al, Avendra also helps their customers with a variety of menu management servic10155664_615822491842883_7245649089152275166_nes and solutions. Such was the case recently, when they hosted a Natural & Sustainable Food Show for their client companies.

Avendra vendors who service this market category, such as Buedel, were invited to exhibit at the show. Culinary teams composed of Food & Beverage Directors, Executive Chefs, Hospitality Managers and others in kind, with interest in adding natural and sustainable food choices to their menus, attended the show.

It is these types of extra service efforts that keeps business competitively strong and provide the opportunity to stand out among the crowd. Avendra examples the type of companies we want to do business with, and we’re truly glad they want to do business with us.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Buedel Goes Global

The FHA 2014 (Food & Hotethumb_showfloor02l Asia) expo was just held in Singapore. Promoted as Asia’s largest and most comprehensive international food and hospitality trade show, there were close to 65,000 attendees from well over 100 countries and regions over the four day event.

Industry buyerFHA2014_LOGO1s perused an extensive range of products and services put up by over 3,200 exhibitors inside 63 international group pavilions. Buedel Fine Meats was on hand exhibiting with our export distributor featuring USDA Prime Dry Aged Angus Beef.

Global Tastesthumb_showfloor07

One may think in Asia, where Wagyu beef and authentic Japanese Kobe beef are prevalent that Angus beef from the United States would be passe, but just the opposite is true. Highly coveted, Dry Aged USDA Prime Angus Beef is considered a luxury by the elite.

Ironically, dry aging is the way all beef used to be aged until the 1970’s, when vacuum packaging was brought to the meat industry. Today, USDA Dry Aged Prime, is highly valued because we, in the U.S., have mastered the sophisticated process of dry aging beef.

There were many exhibitors of Chphoto 3illed Beef at the show, including Wagyu from Japan, USA and Australia, but few with Dry Aged beef. Buedel exhibited a variety of USDA Prime Angus Dry Aged cuts. The excitement over our dry aged beef in Singapore was incredible, with the most favored Dry Aged cuts being:

  • Bone-In Strip Steaks
  • Boneless Strip Steaks
  • Bone-In Rib Eye Steaks
  • Bone-In Rib Eye Roast

Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are all seeing an uptick in the number of steakhouses offering dry aged beef.

The Process

Dry Aging is a time honored, old world tradition where primal beef cuts are aged for 28-50+ days in a controlled open air environment.

During this process, the external service of the meat becomes hard and envelops the meat with a crust. The beef inside the crust develops a fine rich concentrated flavor and photo 2tender texture as the natural moisture in the muscle is evaporated. When the beef has reached the desired age, the inedible outer crust is carefully removed and the meat can be cut into steaks that deliver an incredible flavor.

To properly dry age beef you must have separated refrigerated space with precise temperature, relative humidity and air circulation controls, along with specific UV lighting to control bacteria growth to create the perfect environment.

Dry aged beef is more expensive than wet aged beef because there is typical loss of about 20% of the meat during the dry aging process. Dry aging is best for cuts of beef that have higher marbling such as Prime and Upper Choice grades. The most typical dry aged cuts are from the short loin (Porterhouses, T-Bones, Bone-In Strips) and the ribs (Bone-In Rib Eye Steaks).

Overseas Logistics

Exporting to Asia is quite comphoto 4plex and requires a myriad of paperwork and certifications. Every country has their own set of specific requirements. Once the initial requirements are met, consistent evaluations must be made for any changes. Japan, for example, is now holding vendors accountable for certain anti-microbial compounds. This list is ever evolving, and it’s up to every business to stay on top of these requirements, and bear any on-site audits conducted by the USDA.

Buedel is currently exporting to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. For this type of beef export, you must write a dedicated exporting program that includes source verification and tracing raw materials. (Read more about food safety guidelines and protocols here.) Collaborative efforts by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) have helped pave the way for achieving global standardization.

We are proud to be able to serve these growing markets and help build global appreciation for U.S. beef producers.

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Food Safety Profile: SQF, Exports, Protocols & Service

By Tim Vlcek

Helping customers in their kitchens.

Over the last ten years, food safety has become a critical part of the food industry. When the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011, it was said to be “the most sweeping reform” of U.S. food safety in 70 years, shifting the focus from reactive to preventive standardization.

Food manufacturers are attached at the hip to the USDA on many levels, dedicated to HACCP processing standards and ever evolving with safety certifications domestically and abroad.

Considering the pinnacle points of food manufacturing are, price, quality and food safety, it’s ironic that food safety is the least talked about – there are no marketing initiatives for food safety.

More ironic is the fact that if you’re not investing in this, your business will suffer. The bigger companies invest deeply in food safety, which is why they get the bigger accounts too.

The FYI on SQF

The SQF (Safe Quality Food) certification is required by every major retailer. It proves your business has met the stringent criteria for safe food production. This is important stuff when you think about the volume of vendors involved in the food supply chain from start to finish.

The certification is performed bySQFlogo independent companies and is not an easy process. It takes 12 to 18 months on average to get approved, and can cost as much as $50,000. The size of your company has no bearing on this process either – Whole Foods wants that SQF regardless.

Buedel Fine Meats just received SQF certification (for which we are very proud) – our journey started last December. The final audit was last week; the process includes a desk audit (on site or remotely performed) and then an on-site examination of your company’s records, protocols, processing, etc. The auditors will physically go through your facility with a fine tooth comb over a grueling two day period. Many companies don’t even try to get SQF certified because the criteria is so tough; getting approved and receiving SQF certification is a big accomplishment.

Global Expansion

When a food company takes that first step into global trade they need to acquire “global certification”. In selling domestically, you know the rules and your customer base inside and out – exporting, however, changes everything.

Benchmarking2Every country you do business with has specific requirements, and once you meet them you will need to evaluate them consistently for changes. Japan, for example, is holding vendors accountable for certain anti- microbial compounds. This list is ever evolving, and it’s up to your business to stay on top of them, and bear any on-site audits conducted by the USDA.

For exporting beef, you will be required to write up a program dedicated for exporting that includes source verification and tracing raw materials. Collaborative efforts by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) have helped pave the way for achieving global standardization.

Our company is currently exporting to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. You can research all companies approved for export on the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) website.

Safety and Service

Food processors and manufacturers are ultimately liable for the products they sell. It is a trickle down affect that commands safety and service be a top priority.

For refrigerated and frozen foods, managing the cold chain is crucial to ensure product integrity and safety. When a customer signs for their invoice, their purchase may have already been temperature checked, “temped”, numerous times – from the production line, to storage, packing, shipping, etc. The customer needs to feel confident that food quality has been maintained at all times.

Getting the highest yield is crucial to efficiency.

It is equally critical for sellers to help their customers handle food correctly – wherever they may fall in the supply chain. We work with our restaurant and hospitality operators consistently to help with shelf life and proper storage.

When we see cold chain management problems at our customers’ locations, often times, it comes down to a question of how and where they are storing their meat. Meat should be stored under 35 degrees, but that’s too cold for dairy and produce; ideally meat should be stored in a separate cooler. If that’s not possible, then meat should be stored near the back of a cooler, to avoid spoilage from the front of the cooler where the door is constantly being opened letting warm air in.

When operators want to do in-house processing, cutting and/or packaging, they also need to become acutely aware of food safety procedures.  An ideal rule to follow is to have a HACCP plan in place. Part of the services we provide include helping our customers with HACCP advice and protocols. It is to our mutual benefit when we are able to review their objectives and actually work with them on their own plans and protocols whenever we can.

Key Takeaways

Get to know your supplier. At Buedel Fine Meats, we visit our suppliers and get to know the person in charge of production and food quality – we are just as much a customer to our suppliers as we are a vendor to our customers. We recommend you talk with your suppliers about their safety protocols and what issues they may or may not be having.

Gather information.  Ask your suppliers for the specifications on their products. For example, what are their tolerances, level of trim, etc.? It’s to your benefit to be as familiar with your suppliers as you can. This is especially noteworthy for operators who do their own in-house meat cutting for safe food handling and yield cost management.  If you’re cutting your own meat in-house, audit yourself – always.  If you see actual yields off from what you expected, you could be losing money on every order. Does something just seem visually off? Take the time to take a second look.

Food safety and service go hand in hand.

We encourage our customers to visit our facility. When we take on new accounts we invite their entire staff to come in and see how their products are received, manufactured and delivered under our GMP’s (Good Manufacturing Practices) and SQF.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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Should You Care If “Finely Textured Beef” Is In the Ground You Buy?

Remember all the buzz last year around “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB) aka “Pink Slime”?   

Last August, I wrote about how the fallout from unfair and erroneous media reporting affected employment and ground beef prices in “1 of 10 Things (at the very least) the Food Industry Does Want You to Know“.   

The product was perfectly safe, and USDA approved, but much of the ado was over the fact that consumers were unaware of the process large manufacturers used to produce ground beef. That uproar took most of the product off the market.

What Goes Around Comes Around

11-12price of ground beefHere, we are a little more than a year later, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the price of ground beef is 17% higher on average than last year.  Compare that to the CPI for all food, which grew only 1.4% over last year.

Consumer demand for lower prices is now bringing back finely textured beef.  This time, however, it will be marked as such on the label – kind of.  

Cargill, one of the world’s largest beef companies, just announced it will note the use of finely textured beef in its U.S. ground beef product labels, when applicable. 

In reality, the product never actually went away.  The USDA does not require specific labeling for finely textured beef because the product is 100% beef.

Following the Label Trail   

Cargill has continued to produce finely textured beef for inclusion in its ground beef products and has been doing so since the 1990’s. However, in response to consumer demand for transparency, Cargill will begin to put “contains finely textured beef” on bulk boxes of its ground beef sold to grocery stores for repackaging.

The $64,000 dollar question then is: Will your grocer or foodservice purveyor put that same information on their in-house label when they repackage bulk ground from Cargill?  11-12groundbeef-300x225

Cargill’s labeling disclosure of finely textured beef is voluntary.  A grocery store or foodservice purveyor can purchase Cargill’s bulk ground beef containing lean finely textured beef for a lower price than ground beef without it. They can repackage either product under their own in-house brand and sell them as ground beef or burgers. The possibility exists then that you the consumer may not know which beef you’re buying.  

Next Question: Should You Care?   

Ground beef made with lean finely textured beef is perfectly safe and is technically 100% ground beef.  LFTB is made from the chunks, bits and pieces of beef that remain on the unused parts and fat of the animals, harvested through a scientific separation process. It is the scraps, but still 100% beef and quite inexpensive. 

Lean finely textured beef serves to fill certain demand in the market for low cost ground beef and as a low cost food ingredient. It also relieves the pressure on ground beef pricing by increasing the available supply to meet that demand.

Wrap Up

Food labels are ever evolving. There is current debate whether or not to label genetically modified foods, “GMO”s, and demand to tighten up the loose definition of “Natural” on labels.  Chefs, restaurateurs and consumers want and deserve to know what’s in their food. 

The disclosure of the use of lean finely textured beef as an ingredient is currently voluntary for ground beef and burgers. Thus, buyers can use price as a key indicator for the ingredients and quality of what they’re buying. If the price is cheap relative to similar other choices, the type of ground beef being merchandised, may be suspect as such.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare



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Are You Ready for Chinese Chicken?

Coming to your table soon; processed chicken from China.Thanks to a recent USDA Department of Agriculture ruling, poultry processed in China, can now be sold in the United States. chickennuggets

Remember the Avian influenza H5N1, aka “Bird Flu” – that highly pathogenic virus that first infected humans during a poultry outbreak in China? A new strain of bird flu, H7N9, from chicken flocks, infected humans this year and has already killed 45 people. It started in …You guessed it, China. 

Next question: Why would the USDA Department of Agriculture allow processed chicken from China into the United States?  

How It Evolved

In one word: politics. If we want access to Chinese markets, we need to grant China access to ours. 

The U.S. last year exported $354.1 million worth of poultry products to China, representing about 7 percent of total U.S. poultry exports, according to Census Bureau data. This granted access stems from a 2004 request from China to the USDA to audit its processing plants so poultry could be exported to the United States.   

Pursuant to five years of audits, Congress lifted the ban on processed poultry from China in 2009, on the basis that China’s facilities were equivalent to those in the U.S. Over the next four years, the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) worked with China, to certify their food safety inspection system for processed poultry met the United States standard for equivalency.

Under the terms of the tradBirdFluOutbreakShanghaie agreement, the imported processed chicken from China must be fully cooked to an internal temperature of 165.2°F prior to export and processed only from chickens slaughtered in the U.S. or Canada and exported to China for processing.  No chickens raised or slaughtered in China are eligible for export to the United States. The USDA would also conduct border inspections and China’s processing facilities would be audited annually.

What You Don’t Know, Can Hurt You

You probably won’t know if you’re eating cooked chicken products that came from China such as chicken wings, chicken nuggets, or chicken noodle soup because currently, processed foods do not require Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). 

Country of Origin Labeling is a labeling law that requires retailers notify their customers with information on the label regarding the source of certain foods. Under the current law, where chicken is concerned, only raw muscle cuts and ground chicken are included. 

In our global economy, U.S. poultry companies enjoy access to the Chinese market. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. broiler chicken product exports in 2010 were 6.8 billion pounds, worth $3.1 billion, about 18% of all U.S. production. About $680 million went to China. Of course, China expects reciprocation – but at what cost?  

Since 2007, we have seen from China: tainted baby formula, evidence of melamine in pet food and eggs, and, shrimp, catfish and carp with illegal antibiotics and chemicals. This year, 580 dogs in the U.S. have died after eating chicken jerky treats made in China.

Wrap Up

Is the USDA’s newest ruling BuedelLocalLogoTMthe first step in opening the door for China to export Chinese raised poultry to the United States? Given China’s food safety track record, that’s the fear of many, including Food & Water Watch, a non-profit organization that works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced.

The good news is the Local, Natural & Sustainable movement continues to gain momentum within our domestic food industry. Expect more and more consumers to support its growth.

Related Reading: Sustainable Agriculture: The Short Course   What Makes Meat Natural?  Why Local is Hot   How To Buy Local   Antibiotics & Pork Production

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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Tyson Foods Ban on Zilmax: Politicking or Animal Welfare?

zilmaxI recently wrote about the use of Beta Agonists in the nation’s cattle supply. [See Beta Agonists: The Dummying Down of Commodity Beef?] Last week Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN), which provides 26% of the U.S. beef supply, notified cattle feeders that as of September 6th, the company would no longer purchase animals that had been given Zilmax (zilpaterol) a drug added to feed which accelerates weight gain by as much as 30 pounds just before slaughter. Recent reports of cattle being delivered for processing that couldn’t walk or move were cited as a cause for the move.

Selective Reasoning

The company that manufactures Zilmax (Merck) issued a statement saying the benefits and safety of Zilmax are well documented. “The experience reported by Tyson is not attributable to Zilmax. Indeed, Tyson itself points to the fact that there are other possible causes and that it does not know the specific cause of the issues it recently experienced.”

What’s most intriguing about this play by Tyson is they did not say they would also stop buying animals given Optaflexx, the competitive market drug to Zilmax. It kind of makes you wonder: Was this a sincere move by a mega-meat merchandiser to show they genuinely care about animal welfare, or simple politicking by Tyson to make it easier for them to export beef to countries that prefer beta agonist free beef? 

If Tyson’s rationale is indeed generated on behalf of animal welfare, why then didn’t they address the use of added growth hormones and the sub therapeutic use of antibiotics in addition to Optaflexx? All tools used to help animals gain weight faster, the company’s rationale for singling out just one drug seems suspect at the least.  

Profit vs. Welfare

My guess is this situation is more about money than animal welfare. Tyson Foods is a $3B publicly traded company responsible for generating returns for its shareholders. Exporting is a large market opportunity for companies like Tyson. This announcement was released just after their earnings report, which included statements about the opportunity to grow and provide high-quality, food-safe products with China.

China and many countries in the European Union have banned the use of these drugs in meat production. In May, Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, announced it would cut in half its purchase of animals raised with a similar drug, ractopamine.  About a week later, Smithfield announced its sale to a Chinese company.

Could it be that Tyson is also posturing benefit from the pending Asia-Pacific trade agreement being negotiated with the U.S.? The trade agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is about to start its “19th round of negotiations” later this month in Brunei.

There are over 600,000 head of cattle harvested per week in the U.S., and none of the other major beef producers such as JBS, National Beef, or Cargill have yet to follow Tyson’s move. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out over time.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare



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Are You Buying Faux Angus Beef?

AngusThere are hundreds of branded and private label beef programs on the market claiming to be unique in some way. Of these, about 80 brands are actually “certified” by the USDA validating what they say they are. Many of these brands also claim to be some kind of “Angus” or “Black Angus” beef.

Clad with witty logos, nice packaging and a clever back story, most buyers believe they are buying Angus quality beef when it says “Angus” on the label. Yet of the 50+ “USDA Certified Angus” programs, only 35 of them actually carry the requirement for genetically confirmed Angus cattle.

How can this be?


In 1996, the USDA created the GLA Schedule which specifies the characteristics of cattle eligible for approved beef programs claiming Angus influence. The USDA certifies Angus programs based on either the way the animal looks or by the actual genetics of the animal. The meat business terms for these clarifications are Phenotype and Genotype.

Phenotype Angus certifications require the cattle to look like an Angus breed by being 51% or more solid black, but in reality they may not actually be Angus. The simplified analogy here is: if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it must be a duck! 

Genotype Angus certifications require the cattle actually have traceable Angus genetics. In this case: I know you’re a duck because your DNA confirms you’re a duck!

It used to be visually simple to tell one breed of cattle from another before the boom of modern crossbreeding techniques – today, not so much.

Angus 101

BrahmanNot all cattle breeds are created equal; beef quality and consistency are heavily influenced by genetics. Hereford and Angus (British Breeds) were known to be quality bred for centuries. However, many other breeds were developed for different purposes such as climate/heat tolerance, dairy and draft uses.These breeds, such as Brahman, Holstein and Limousin, perform well for their primary task but are inconsistent in their meat quality. 

Black HolsteinThere are over 80 cattle breeds used in the U.S. beef supply today. Advances in crossbreeding technology and animal husbandry, now provide black hided cattle with very little true Angus quality. This is how breeds such as the 51+ black Holstein and Simmental, can qualify as Angus under the Phenotype program.

In reality, close to 65% of the commodity cattle supply today havBlack Simmentale black hides but may not genetically be Angus.

Hankering for Angus

Why is Angus beef so desirable? Pure and simple, it is the most consistent performing beef on the market.  

Angus (and Hereford) cattle have superior genetics that produce better quality meat in terms of tenderness and fat (marbling). It stems from the way their genetics control a protein called myostatin which inhibits the growth of muscle in cattle.  Angus cattle have more myostatin, which makes their meat fattier and more marbled. The superior genetics of Angus beef tends to have more finely textured marbling, which makes it even more tender compared to other breeds.

How to Find Authentic Angus

USDA G-SchedulesStart by researching the “G-Schedule” registered with the USDA. Choose a USDA Certified branded Angus program that carries a Genotype GLA live animal requirement.

Brands such as Creekstone Farms Premium Black Angus Beef and Certified Angus Beef  have USDA verified/certified programs that ensure their Angus branded beef do, in fact, have the required Angus genetics. 

Know the Faux: Angus brands, which carry the Phenotype GLA live animal requirement, only confirms the animals have more than 50% black hides. These are exactly the type of beef programs, which could be faux Angus, when expecting the quality beef benefits of actual Angus genetics. Use this link to verify beef programs: USDA Certified Beef Programs.

Another important attribute to look for in branded Angus programs is “Maturity”.   As cattle age, their beef quality becomes less desirable.

Commodity CattleThe USDA categorizes the chronological age into Maturity Categories:A, B, C, D, E.  “A” Maturity carcasses are 9 to 30 months old, “B” Maturity are 31 to 42 months old. USDA Prime, Choice, and Select graded beef can only be A and B Maturity. Carcasses older than 42 months are considered Commercial, Cutter and Canner grades.

The better USDA Certified Beef programs use only “A” Maturity beef in their program because the younger animals have more desirable muscle quality and tenderness.

Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

Chefs and restaurateurs want to make sure their customers have a delightful eating experience every time they dine. When it comes to beef, there are many variables to keep in mind includiBeef Quality Ladderng, USDA grade, breed of animal, aging and trim specifications that are important before the meat is prepared by the Chef.    

One of the best ways to eliminate the variations in quality is to start with a  USDA Certified beef program that carries the Genotype GLA genetic Angus confirmation. Then make sure you work with a local meat purveyor who will properly age the beef for you to help ensure the most desirable and consistent taste and tenderness possible.

From the Desk of John Cecala  Twitter @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook Page


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The Art of the Burger


Burger by Eddie Merlot’s

With the grilling and summer seasons now in high gear, burgers are all but a mandatory requirement for outdoor barbecuing. So what are some of the best ways to avoid patty pitfalls? Here are our top five suggestions for perfecting your next grill:

I. Begin With Raw Quality

Start out with the right type of ground beef. There are burgers made from beef trimmings and burgers made from whole muscle cuts – the significant differences being in price, taste and quality.   

Burgers Made from Trim  

Most burgers you see in supermarkets and fast food restaurant chains are made from beef trimmings ground up with added fat. These are the cheapest burgers you can buy because they’re made from by-products.

Typical examples of by-products include: Rose Meat – the muscle just under the animal’s skin that it shakes to swat away flies; Baader Material – the last traces of skeletal muscle meat and sinew that are scraped from animal bones with a Baade groundbeefafter the primal cuts have been carved off manually and Whizard Trim – extracted from the neck bones and much of the leftover trimmings and fat of a beef carcass. 

These types of burger are usually marketed with some kind of lean/fat ratio like, “75/25” or “80/20” (lots of dairy cows end up as this type of ground beef after their milking days are over).  Ground beef and burgers made from grinding beef trimmings and fat together are fine but lack the rich depth of flavor and consistency that burgers made from ground whole muscle cuts deliver.  

Burgers Made from Whole Muscle Cuts

“Premium” or “Gourmet” burgers are made from grinding whole muscle cuts. Ground chuck is one of the most popular varieties seen on the market today. Whole beef chucks are ground without adding fat or beef trimmings which produces a rich beefy tasting burger.

BuedelBSC_BURGER_FLYER_v1Whole muscle cuts take burger art to the next level in a variety of ways. For example, at Buedel Fine Meats, we produce burgers from whole muscle cuts of USDA Prime Angus beef, USDA Choice Angus beef, a blend of both Prime and Choice Angus beef, and blends of whole muscle Brisket/Short Rib/Chuck. This unique combination brings together the buttery flavor of the brisket with the richness of the short rib and the traditional beefy flavor of the chuck producing a juicy burger that bursts with layers of decadent flavor.

II. Find Your Grind: Fine, Medium or Coarse

The “bite” of the burger or “mouth feel” are terms that professional chefs and restaurateurs use when taste testing burgers. In addition to the type of meat used, the texture of the grind is extremely important. You can choose between fine, medium and coarse ground beef for adjusting the bite of the burger.

Fine grinds give a smoother mouth feel and bite because the beef grind is smaller and most of the natural sinew or gristle is undetectable. Coarse grinds have a rougher chunkier type of bite and mouth feel because the beef grind is larger and has more natural sinew. Medium grinds, as you would expect, are right in the middle having a rougher type of bite with less of the chunkiness you get with coarse grinds.

Buedel recommends fine grinds, which are used by most of the hottest burger places; fine grinds provide a great eating experience for customers. Finer grinds are the best choice for backyard barbecuing because they tend to cook more evenly; they are also the best choice for homemade meatballs and meatloaf. Fine grinds are the most popular and versatile grind.

III. Choose Between Hand Made and Formed Patties

Portion PattyBurgers can be formed by hand or by a patty machine. There are benefits to both methods.Burgers formed by hand from bulk ground beef can easily be formed to any desired size. They can be loose packed or tightly packed depending upon your tastes. Hand formed burgers are great for back yard grilling because they’re easy to make and guests can pick the size they like. 

Large volume burger operators, such as restaurants and caterers, use formed patties to provide uniform portions, ensure maximum cost control and save the labor of hand prepared patties. Formed patties also come in numerous sizes, shapes and thicknesses. Buedel offers Burger Balls, which are portion controlled ground beef balls that can be hand smashed to give the appearance of a hand formed burger with all the benefits of portion control.

IV. Cook to Perfection

Cooking is by far the most important part of burger art. Burgers can be baked, fried, grilled or broiled. We polled the Buedel staff for some of their tried and true burger tips and suggestions:


Scotty’s “Shewman” Special

When grilling burgers, I make an indentation in the middle of the burger before grilling to stop the burger from puffing up, so they grill more evenly. For toppings, I like to borrow from the best seller at Scotty’s Brewhouse, bacon, peanut butter, jalapeño and cheddar burger. Sounds strange, but it is amazingly delicious!          Scott Dowden  (20 year meat professional)

I have found when grilling beef, (especially burgers), turning the meat only once is the most important tip. I stay away from pepper as a seasoning because pepper tends to leave a “burnt” like finish and texture to the meat. I only use kosher salt on the beef after I turn it, lightly sprinkling the salt on top of the cooked side. Peter Heflin (aka “Pete the Butcher”)

6-8 ounce whole muscle chuck makes the perfect hearty backyard burger. Season with salt, pepper and a hint of granulated garlic, or use a dry rub for a spicier flavor. Always keep burgers refrigerated until ready to grill and always cook them on high heat. Never EVER “squeeze” them down when cooking or you will lose the precious juices – that’s where much of the flavor hides!  Russ Kramer  (Buedel Corporate Chef)

Don’t over handle the meat. Season well, but refrain from adding onions, mushrooms or breadcrumbs into the mixture (because that makes it more like meat loaf). Make the patties uniform in size and weight and don’t salt the meat until they are on the grill.  James Melnychuk  (Chef Sales Rep)

For maximum food safety, the USDA recommends cooking to 160 degrees for all ground meat.  Use a meat thermometer and probe the center of the burger for a temperature reading. If you are making cheeseburgers, put the cheese on at the very end of cooking and close the lid just long enough to melt the cheese. Remove the burgers from the grill and let them stand 3-5 minutes before serving – use that time to toast your hamburger buns on the grill. Tim Vlcek (Principal & Executive V.P. of Production & Food Safety)

V. Explore Creative Toppings

According to Burger Trends, consumers still favorite traditional burger toppers such as, tomato, onions, lettuce and pickles, but “interest in non-traditional flavors are growing”.

This year, crunchy, smoky and spicy are big in/on burgers – that and even fried eggs. Unique flavor combinations and cuisines such as, Greek infused burgers with cucumber sauce, goat cheese and spinach, example current flavor trends. There is no limit to the varieties of seasonings and toppings being used today.

Develop the art of your burger with quality raw meats, best grinds and forms. Cook with care and serve with your own twist on unique and traditional spices, condiments and toppings. Visit our gourmet burger page for more information. Enjoy!


From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook BuedelFanPage 


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Antibiotics & Pork Production

antibiotics-for-agricultureLast week news broke on China’s pending acquisition of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer. The United States pork industry harvests slightly over 100 million pigs annually, about 59 pounds per capita in pork consumption. Smithfield produces about 26 million pigs per year, over 20% of the U.S. total harvest. China’s pork industry consumes over 700 million pigs annually, about 80 pounds per capita in pork consumption.

More than 700,000 tons of pork are imported to China per year to keep up with its growing demand. The billion+ Chinese population has an insatiable appetite for pork, so much so it was announced last week that a meat company in China is willing to pay $4.7 billion for Smithfield Foods. Though Smithfield already exports to China, the acquirer will likely increase pork production volumes to help secure the food supply.

Antibiotics manufacturers may be the most happy about the acquisition because 80% of the antibiotics manufactured are used on livestock and China uses four times the amount of veterinary antibiotics than the United States.   

The Evolution of Antibiotics in Production

The discovery of antibiotics by Sir Alexander Fleming in the late 1920’s transformed medicine and changed the world in remarkable ways. Fleming’s discovery ultimately became Penicillin, the antibiotic that saved lives by curing bacterial infections. It was mass produced during World War II for therapeutic use to treat our troops and became known as “The Wonder Drug” in medicine. Medical scientists continued research, and the 1940’s discovered other naturally occurring antibiotics such as Tetracycline could be used therapeutically to cure infection.

In the late 1940’s, the poultry industry discovered that feeding the fermentation byproducts of Tetracycline antibiotics to chickens improved their growth – thus began the “sub therapeutic” use of antibiotics: purposely adding low levels of antibiotics as growth promoters to increase yield. 

The U.S. post World War II economic boom brought about industrial farming. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) were built to mass produce chicken and pork. Smithfield Foods operates Concentrated Animal Fecafoeding Operations (CAFOs) to mass produce pork.

CAFOs house thousands of animals confined in pens where they are mass fed to fatten them up as quickly as possible. Pigs are crammed into giant buildings in stalls so small they can’t turn around. Unable to express their natural behavior in these stalls, their muscles become weak. Pigs’ immune systems in these overpopulated environments are so weakened that disease and infection spread rapidly amongst them.

The sub therapeutic use of antibiotics in CAFOs serves a dual purpose: Accelerating animal growth and staving off the increased propensity for disease and infection. This type of antibiotic administration in low doses also facilitates the rapid evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Some bacteria develop mutations that make them immune to the same drugs meant to kill them.  

An example of this type of mutation is MRSA ST398, a potentially deadly form of MRSA that has jumped from farm animals to humans. This strain has developed resistance to modern drugs while living in farm animals reared with antibiotics.  It has now leapt back from the farm animals to people and is resistant to common antibiotic drugs used to treat MRSA. 

This strain, sometimes called pig MRSA, has been detected in 47% of the meat samples in the U.S. across pigs, turkeys, cattle, and other livestock. A study published in 2011 by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGRI) showed that MRSA was finding its way into our meats. Researchers analyzed 136 samples of beef, poultry and pork from 36 supermarkets in California, Illinois, Florida, Arizona and Washington, D.C. Nearly one-quarter of the samples tested positive for MRSA. TGRI’s Dr. Paul Keim cautions, “It is our inappropriate use of antibiotics that is now coming back to haunt us.”

The overuse of sub therapeutic antibiotics also causes concern for drug residues that leach into our food supply. These residues can cause an allergic reaction and promote resistant strains of bacteria in our bodies. 

Antibiotic Manufacturers

Drug companies continually work to develop new antibiotics to kill new strains of bacteria such as pig MRSA that become immune to the previous antibiotic meant to kill them. That means big money for the drug manufacturers when a new drug is developed and approved for sale. It is also important to note there are no legal limitations in place policing the amount of antibiotics given to animals.  Eli Lilly’s Elanco Animal Health unit is one of the leading producers of medicated feed additives and represented nearly one-tenth of the company’s $22.6 billion in revenues in 2012.

China’s acquisition of Smithfield Foods may bring even more substantial money for drug companies. The Smithfield acquisition portends to increase their pork production, and that means more CAFOs to produce more pigs. More CAFOs means more pigs and more antibiotic purchase orders. This stands to reason why the drug companies may be the most happy about China’s acquisition of Smithfield Foods.

Antibiotic Free Pork

Buyers who want to avoid pork raised with antibiotics need to gain a clear understanding of label jargon and USDA guidelines. One term that often causes confusion is the word “Natural”. The USDA’s definition of Natural is:

A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).

The USDA approved use of Natural on the label does not speak to the exclusion of administered antibiotics. An example of this can be found on the label of Smithfield All Natural Fresh Pork: Product of the USA; No added steroids or hormones; No artificial ingredients or preservatives; USDA Process Verified.

Smithfield’s claims for its All Natural Fresh Pork is void of key claims such as “raised without antibiotics”, or “never administered antibiotics”, but does include “no artificial ingredients” as required by the USDA guidelines. It is also important to note that “hormones” by law, are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry! Producers will often add such jargon to make their products appear better wherever possible.

For those interested in a finely defined natural product that is, in fact, free of antibiotics there are stricter label definitions. Highly defined all Natural meats usually come with one or more of the following package statements: Never Administered Antibiotics; Raised Without Antibiotics, and when applicable, Raised Without Added Hormones. Products with these highly defined claims on their labels confirm that the animals were never administered antibiotics or growth hormones to accelerate weight gain and speed to market during their lifetime.

Look for companies like Niman Ranch who prohibit the use of antibiotics and CAFOs in their hog raising protocols, which they make common public knowledge. For more resources, check our complete line of antibiotic free meats.

Sources used:,0,4432412.story,0,7044429.story


From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine MeatsFacebook  Buedel Fan Page 

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Hashtag NRA Show

There’s something special about the #NRAShow [National Restaurant Association Show]. Billed as an “international foodservice marketplace”, the NRA Show is big news to a lot of people, perhaps because nearly one in 10 American workers are employed in the restaurant industry – ‘big’, to say the least. More than 60,000 buyers and suppliers are expected to attend the four day event at McCormick Plachydroponic_image_250pxe beginning this Saturday, May 18th.

There will be loads of educational sessions, guest speakers, (Starbuck’s CEO, Howard Schultz, will be doing the keynote), celebrity chefs, and numerous special exhibits such as a “fully functioning hydroponic garden that will grow local, all-natural, pesticide-free produce – on the show floor”. Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a water and mineral nutrient solution without soil.

Show Local Supportshowbooth - small

We are equally excited to be an exhibitor at the show again this year. In the meat industry this year’s hottest trends are: gourmet burgers, grass fed beef and local.

The definitions of “local” and “sustainable” are changing rapidly and expanding beyond environmental concerns as the marketplace responds to consumer interest for healthier eating, humane animal treatment and better food quality. ‘Local’ points to these issues and more – food safety, family farmers and sustainable agriculture – to name a few.

BuedelLocalLogoTMOur company is a family owned business and in honor of all local and family owned businesses we are launching a new program in show of support at the NRA Show. (Please feel free to use our local logo to share in the cause!) We’ve also put together a great little cheat sheet on How to Buy Local explaining the basics of what to look for when buying local and sustainable foods. Stop by the Buedel booth at the show for more information, #7864!

Fun Foods

Part of the fun at the NRA Show is of course, the food. The exhibit halls are filled with new products to sample. Here are some of the new items we’ve put on our must see list:

Ditka Hot Beef Polish Sausage – an eight inch long, 1/3 lb. spicy sausage from Vienna Beef tditkasausagehat’s geared to be a “Grabowski” classic.

Upland Cress – just one of several specialty greens from family farmed and  sustainable, Living Water Farms in Strawn, Illinois.

tspwillieTeaspoon Willies Everything Sauce – a gourmet, all natural, organic tomato based sauce to be used as a staple condiment at every meal. (We have to try it, just because of the name!)

Grandpa G’s Jalapeno Butter Mustard – noted as a “relish”, Grandpa G’s has  ProductLarge4981.jpgfresh grated jalapenos mixed in with sugar tangy mustard. 

All Butter Croissant Roll Round – round shaped croissants for sandwiches; great idea!


From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page 

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Cheat Sheet for Meat

In case you missed it, there was an article in the Business Section of the Trib recently entitled, “Meat Industry Takes Knife to Names” by P.J. Huffstutter. The gist of the piece talks about how the pork and beef industries are working to rename over 350 meat cut monikers, “…to give them more sizzle”.

BostonRoastTo give you a feel for how this will play out, the pork butt, for example – which really comes from the shoulder of the animal not the back side – will now be called a “Boston Roast”.  The idea is that consumers will feel better about purchasing and serving Boston Roast vs. Pork Butt.  When you look at it like that, butt for dinner is not such a glamorous thing.

There are many nicknames already used by meat purveyors, chefs and restaurateurs in the food service industry for the different cuts of meat.  What’s most interesting is consumers are already highly familiar with a lot of them.

What’s in a Name?

Steak cuts such as, Delmonico, New York Strip and Porterhouse came by their names based on the popularity of where they were served.  A porterhouse was the name for a bar and steak house popular in the mid to late 1800’s. Legend has it that when the owner of a particular Manhattan porterhouse started serving rather large T-bone steaks, they became known as the now ubiquitous Porterhouse Steak. 

Contemporary names for meat come from a variety of resources. A recent example of this occurred when research teams at the Universities of Nebraska and Florida were looking for a new value cut from the top blade of the shoulder.The resulting value cut was shaped like an old flat iron and thus given the name Flat Iron Steak. TGI Friday’s first popularized the Flat Iron Steak and it is seen on numerous menus today. The meat industry continually looks for ways to merchandise new cuts of meat. 

Meat Lingo

When I first came into to the meat business, I quickly realized I had to learn a new language – the language of meat. One of the best things I did was attend the North American Meat Association (NAMA) Center of the Plate Training  where I learned the scientific names of each muscle, where on the animal it came from and what its common nickname was.  As I started working with restaurateurs and chefs, I soon learned another whole set of nicknames for the same cuts of meat. It was confusing at times, to say the least.

The language of meat became tacit knowledge being immersed in the business on a daily basis and I soon found myself unconsciously speaking it to my customers and colleagues.  Ironically, due to the volume and duality of meat names, confusion prevailed both internally and externally.  Ultimately, we developed a “Cheat Sheet for Meat” for the language of meat to train employees and help consumers better understand meat cuts and decode meat industry buzzwords.

BeefCutMapBiggerWhile certainly not exhaustive, below are the most common terms used in the language of meat and what they mean. For additional detail check the Meat Buyer’s Guide available in print and online. View a complete Cheat Sheet for Meat here.



Ball-Tip Steak Boneless steak cut from the bottom sirloin muscle known as the ball tip / Lower cost value cut
Baseball cut butt steak Boneless top sirloin steak cut filet style / Rich and flavorful, looks like a tenderloin filet at a lower cost
Bavette Steak Name commonly used for steaks cut from sirloin flap meat  
Boston Cut Strip Steak Boneless New York Strip steak cut in half across the width  
Butcher’s Steak Another name for hanging tender steak, or hanger steaks
Club Steak Cut from the beef short loin nearest the rib / Triangular L shaped like a T-Bone steak but without the tenderloin
Cowboy Steak Bone-in Rib-eye steak with meat cut off at top end of the bone leaving about 1” exposed bone for presentation
Cube Steak Cut of beef, usually top round or top sirloin, fiercely tenderized by pounding with a meat or electric tenderizer 
Delmonico Steak Boneless Rib-eye steak with no tail fat
Filet (Tenderloin Filet) Commonly used term for a boneless steak cut from the tenderloin muscle
Flank Steak Boneless steak cut from the abdominal muscle which is called the flank
Flat Iron Steak Steak cut from the shoulder top blade muscle located inside the clod or shoulder / Tender value cut
Hanger Steak Steak cut from the hanging tender in the diaphragm of the animal / Commonly called Onglet Steak in French bistros
Kansas City Strip Bone-in Strip steak cut from the short loin
London Broil Variety of thinly sliced beef cuts, usually boneless, for broiling / Suggested cuts: top butt cap, flank, and top round
NY Strip Steak Boneless steak cut from the strip loin muscle
Onglet Steak Another name for a Hanger Steak
Petite Filet Medallion Common name given to a boneless cut from the teres major muscle in the shoulder
Porterhouse Steak Bone-in steak cut from short loin; similar to T-bone / One side is tenderloin at least 1.25″ wide; one side strip loin
Ranch Steak Boneless steak cut from beef shoulder chuck / Technical name: boneless chuck shoulder center cut steak / Value cut
Rib-Eye Steak Cut from the animal’s rib portion / Rib-eye steaks can be boneless or bone-in
Sizzler Steak Name commonly used for boneless ball-tip steaks
Skirt Steak Boneless steak cut from whole skirt muscle / Can be inside or outside skirt
Sirloin Flap Cut from the bottom sirloin just above the flank and right next to the short loin  
T-Bone Steak Bone-in steak cut from short loin similar to a Porterhouse / One side tenderloin at least .5″ wide; one side strip loin
Tomahawk Steak Name for bone-in rib-eye steak with long portion of rib bone attached and exposed for dramatic plate presentation
Top Butt Steak Boneless steak cut from top sirloin muscle, rich and flavorful / Not the actual “butt” of the animal
Tri-Tip Steak Boneless steak cut from tri-tip muscle, part of the bottom sirloin
Vein Steak Hip end of sirloin strip or short loin; shows piece of connective tissue around loin eye / Value cut from end of strip loin
Backstrap Elastin type connective tissue found in neck, blade, rib and loin / Usually removed before steaking or roasting strip loin
BRT “Boned, Rolled & Tied” / Bone is removed; meat is rolled and tied (netted) / Usual specification for boneless lamb legs  
Chine Bone Part of the backbone that remains after a carcass is split / Chine bones should be removed from beef roasts to cut through the roast prior to or after cooking
Denuded Meat cuts that have had all surface fat removed
French Cut Bone-in steaks (or chops) with meat trimmed from the bone to expose it / Like the “cowboy steak”
Lollipop Cut Bone-in steak (or lamb/pork chop) with bone trimmed down to eye of the loin / Bone is exposed further than French or Cowboy style making it look like  a “lollipop”
Mouse or Rat Muscle Small muscle part of the whole top sirloin (top butt) / Can be left on or taken off with cutting steaks
Peeled Same as Denuded; meat cuts that have had all surface fat removed
Pinned (Needled) Tenderizing process involving penetration of muscles by steel blades
Silver Skin Thin film of soft connective tissue on beef tenderloin / Can be left on or removed when cutting steaks
Tail Fat Small part of fat attached to cut of steak / Typically 1” or 2” on Strip Steaks and Rib-Eyes
Ball Tip Boneless sub primal found in Bottom Butt / Can be roasted or cut for “Sizzler” steaks
Bottom Butt (Bottom Sirloin) Boneless sub primal below Top Butt; includes Tri-Tip and Ball Tip cuts 
Bottom Round Bone-in sub primal from beef round or back leg of steer / Also called a “Gooseneck Round”
Chuck Bone-in or boneless containing neck, shoulder blade and upper arm / Tougher cut good for roasting and ground beef
Chuck Roll Boneless cut from the whole beef chuck
Clod Heart Flavorful less tender cut from heart of beef shoulder / Clod roast is an economical cut for roasting or grinding 
Coulotte Triangular shaped muscle beneath the surface of whole top butt muscle / Very rich in flavor, great for roasting or steaks
Export Rib Bone-in whole Rib-eye primal cut / Used for roasting or cutting into bone-in rib-eye steaks
Gooseneck (Round) Bone-in sub primal that comes from beef round or back leg of steer / Also called “Bottom Round”
Inside Round Bone-in sub primal that comes from the beef round or back leg of the steer / Also called “Top Round”
Knuckle Very lean part of the sirloin; also known as “Sirloin Tip” / Commonly used for roasts and ground beef
Lipon Rib-Eye Boneless rib section; sub primal / Used for prime rib and boneless rib-eye steaks
PSMO Peeled beef tenderloin; side muscle on / Common sub primal cut used for roasting or cutting into tenderloin filets
Short Loin Bone-in sub primal from back of the steer / Contains part of the spine and includes the strip loin and tenderloin
Strip Loin 0x1 Boneless sub primal cut without tail fat on one end and 1″ tail fat on the other / Used for roasting or cutting strip steaks
Strip Loin 1×1 Boneless sub primal cut with 1″ tail fat across the loin / Used for roasting or cutting strip steaks
Top Butt (Top Sirloin) Boneless sub primal below tenderloin between short loin and round / Used for roasting or cutting steaks rich with flavor
Top Round Bone-in sub primal from the beef round or back leg of steer / Also called “Inside Round”
Tri-Tip Boneless sub primal found in Bottom Butt / Great for roasting or cutting into Tri-Tip Steaks

When names like Boston Butt start popping up in our local meat cases people will ask “what’s that?”  The store managers will explain, meat companies will keep marketing it, restaurants will soon follow and before you know it, we will all be using these new names. 


From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page 

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Embrace Trends for the Win-Win-Win

What could be more exciting than bringing a new brand of healthy burgers to the grocery checkout line? Nothing (in our humble book of meat feats)!  Breaking ground in new markets is always an exciting thing, especially when it helps bring notoriety to your own city.

Here’s the breaking news:

Local Meat Men Lasso East Coast
Healthy burgers on their way to Mid Atlantic & Southeast by way of Chicago

Local Meat Companies Tallgrass Beef and Buedel Fine Meats have teamed up to design and deliver a healthier burger alternative for supermarket giant Delhaize America. Over 1,000 stores across the Mid Atlantic and Southeast region will receive first shipments this week at Delhaize Food Lion, Hannaford and Sweetbay locations.

Delhaize is a global retailer with a company-wide initiative in place for sustainable business and healthy eating. They decided to partner with Tallgrass Beef to develop a burger made from, “100% grass-fed beef with no additives or imitation ingredients to deliver and educate customers on the best and most healthy options in the marketplace.”

Anytime “better choices” are brought to the marketplace it’s a good thing for consumers, and in this case, better for health, local, sustainability and the humane treatment of animals. “The new product line,” offers Tallgrass President, Bill Kurtis, “also provides Delhaize customers with the ability to show support for animals raised naturally void of added hormones and antibiotics.”

The appetite for healthy, local and sustainable foods is strong and growing. In an article published by the University of Chicago’s Environment, Agriculture & Food blog, the interest in knowing where our food comes from and the humane treatment of animals is becoming increasingly important not only to consumers but to restaurants and chefs as well.

Delhaize says they believe, “Tallgrass Burgers gives a healthy and amazing tasting product that people can feed their families while knowing without a doubt that they are buying the safest, healthiest and most nutritious beef possible!” Partnering with Tallgrass makes perfect sense for Delhaize; it also demonstrates the need for our industry to be proactive in meeting the demand for these types of food options.

The working relationship between Tallgrass, as meat provider and Buedel as purveyor and distributor on this project, exemplifies how our industry can come together in the ways we bring beef to market. When you factor in the opportunity to build Chicago as an emerging go to resource for healthy beef choices, it’s a win-win-win for the city, economy and consumers.


From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page 

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Beta Agonists: The Dummying Down of Commodity Beef?

Our nation’s cattle supply is at a 60 year low, yet we are producing more edible beef today than sixty years ago. U.S. cattle numbers in 1980 were 111 million head producing 21 billion pounds of beef. In 2011, U.S. cattle numbers were 92 million head producing over 26 billion pounds of beef.

How do you get 19% more beef with 18% less cattle?  

Advances in genetics for breeding animals with higher carcass weights can be attributed in part to this issue. However, most of the responsibility of the more beef from less cattle debate points toward the use of growth promoters, such as growth hormones or steroids used on cattle.

While consumer demand for “all natural” animal proteins (without added hormones or antibiotics) has dramatically increased over the last five years, over 30 FDA approved growth-promoting products are currently being used in livestock production. Of these, there is increasing use of a class of growth promoting agents called “beta agonists” that are neither growth hormones nor antibiotics.

Beta Agonists in Cattle Production

Originally developed for the treatment of asthma in humans (think about that a moment), beta agonists were first approved by the FDA for use in cattle ten years ago. They are a growth promoter which mimics the effect of naturally occurring hormones at the cellular level but do not affect the hormone status of the animal.

Beta agonists act as a repartitioning agent in livestock changing the metabolism of the animal by converting feed energy into muscle versus fat. Animals pack on the pounds in result – as much as 25-30% more lean mass than fat. The two most common beta agonists used on beef cattle are:

Optaflexx™ (ractopamine hyperchloride) and Zilmax™ (zilpaterol hydrochloride).

Cattle nearing maturity naturally begin to deposit additional fat and less muscle during the final days of the feeding period.

Cattle who are fed Zilmax™ or Optaflexx™ during the last 20-40 days of their finishing period, demonstrate a feed-to-gain ratio increase of 10-25%; their muscle gain increases while their fat deposition reduces at the same time.

In other words, these animals swell up fast with muscle versus fat. Their weight goes up, but the quality of the meat arguably goes down.

Good Beef Economics vs. Lower Beef Quality

Feedlot operators who use beta agonists in feed are able to produce more meat without more feed in less time. On average, 30+ extra pounds of meat per animal which translates to as much as $30 more per head when sold to beef packers. Higher production output in less time and at less expense drives the economy of scale.

Today’s major beef packers, Tyson, JBS, Cargill and National Beef, all accept cattle that are fed beta agonists. These companies supply about 85% of the commodity beef in the marketplace. They determine how much to pay for cattle based on factors such as cattle weight and fattiness. The more lean muscle versus fat, the more they will pay for an animal because that is where they can make the most money.

While beta agonists may be good for the economics of beef, many believe they are bad for the quality and flavor of beef. The most notable affects to quality being, marbling and loin size.

Marbling Cattle fed beta agonists generally produce more lean muscle but with less marbling, taste and juiciness. When there is more intramuscular marbling, the USDA grade is higher; the higher the USDA grade, the better the flavor, tenderness and eating experience.

Common use of beta agonists may result in the marginalization of beef into higher percentages of lower choice and select grades. This in turn, may drive up prices for desirable higher choice and prime grades that are preferred by fine restaurants and steak lovers.

Loin Size Most chefs and restaurateurs want to serve a nice thick juicy steak while at the same time using portion control to manage food costs. Bigger cattle have bigger muscles; bigger muscles give you thinner steaks with portion control cuts.

The average weights of middle meats, such as rib eyes, strip loins and short loins, have been increasing over the years. (You can get a thicker 16 oz. steak from lighter loin than from heavier loin.) When cattle are heavier, it becomes harder to find lighter sized loins in the commodity beef market. In this scenario consumers will pay more for smaller sized loins because they will be in less supply.

Are Beta Agonists Here to Stay?

The FDA approved the use of beta agonists in swine back in 1999, for cattle in 2003 and for turkeys in 2008. Unlike swine or poultry whose litters have short maturation periods, cows are only able to have one calf at a time over a nine month gestation time frame. It takes another two years then for that calf to reach maturity. Consequently, it takes a long time to build a herd of cattle.  The use of beta agonists accelerates beef production somewhat compensating for the natural slow growth time.

To date, there are over 160 countries including Russia, China and the European Union, which have banned ractopamine the active ingredient in Optaflexx™. There are 20+ other countries, such as Japan, South Korea and the United States, which continue the approved use of beta agonists.

Whether beta agonists are a better way to feed the masses or simply a vehicle for making more money with blander beef remains debatable. Consumer demand will ultimately decide the fate of the use of beta agonists in livestock. If demand for commodity beef remains constant or increases, the use of beta agonists are likely here to stay.


From the desk of John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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UMAMI | The Fifth Primary Taste

Have you heard about Umami? I just did at an educational meeting of the ACF Windy City Professional Culinarians. The Vice President of Culinary Arts at Kendall College, Christopher Koetke CEC, CCE, HAAC, gave an eye opening lesson on the subject.

What is Umami?

We interpret our experience with food through sight, sound, smell, texture and taste: The sight of a beautiful plate presentation, the sound of a sizzling steak served on a hot plate, the aroma of fresh baked bread, the texture of bite you get from eating apples and the taste sensation that comes from a combination of flavors in your mouth.

Growing up, we were taught there were four primary tastes: Sour, Bitter, Sweet and Salty. However, there is a fifth primary taste called, Umami which is the way our body interprets and senses protein or savory taste.

Umami was first discovered in 1907 by Professor Kikuane Ikeda at the Imperial University in Japan. Dr. Ikeda observed there was a taste sensation common in many foods that didn’t fall into the four primary taste categories. He called this taste umami which describes savory or deliciousness in Japanese.  A year later, he identified glutamic acid (glutamate) as the source of this unique taste.

Glutamate 101

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and glutamate is an essential amino acid found in proteins. There are two forms of glutamate: Bound Glutamate and Free Glutamate.

Our body produces bound glutamate naturally in large amounts as part of protein essential for metabolism and brain function. Manufacturing about 50 grams of glutamate daily, the human body also stores about 2 kilos of glutamate in the major organs and muscles.

Free glutamate occurs openly in the foods we eat that are high in protein such as, cheese, milk, mushrooms, meat, fish, chicken, tomatoes and more. Glutamate is metabolized rapidly by the body as an energy source. The average person consumes between 10-20 grams of glutamate from their diet daily.

A Taste Sensation

Nature Magazine reported that a team of scientists from the University of Miami identified the taste receptor on our tongue for umami in 2000. The discovery in effect validated what Professor Ikeda had revealed 93 years earlier that umami is a distinguishable taste sensation.

It is free glutamate, which can be detected by our umami taste receptors. Foods rich in umami are desirous because they taste so good whether recognized as umami or not. The more free glutamate present in foods, the more most of us enjoy their taste.

Increased levels of free glutamate are brought about in a number of ways we can all relate to:

Ripening  When vegetables are ripe, their taste and flavor are heightened. Consequently, as they ripen there is a major increase in the levels of free glutamate. For example, a red ripe tomato has a much preferred taste and flavor compared to a unripened green tomato.

Maturing  During the maturation process proteins break down which increase the levels of free glutamate. Cheddar cheese, when aged for 8 months, has a much stronger taste and flavor than younger aged fresh cheddar.

Curing  The breakdown of protein during the processes used for curing meats or fish, increase the levels of free glutamate.  A dry cured Prosciutto di Parma has a deep rich taste and flavor compared to that of a fresh ham.

Drying  Cell walls break down during the drying process releasing taste and flavor enhancing proteins. Foods like sun-dried tomatoes and dried mushrooms have a strong umami taste.

Cooking  The slow cooking of meat, braising, for example, is a way of increasing umami taste.

Seasoning  Adding chicken bullion or Kombu Dashi to stock and other dishes raises the level of free glutamate and umami taste.

Umami in a Bottle

Glutamate seasoning is the simplest, purest way to add the umami taste to food.  Ancient Romans used Garum, a fermented fish sauce as a condiment to add flavor to food.  Modern day seasonings such as, Worcester Sauce, Soy Sauce, and Tomato Ketchup are all means of enhancing umami taste because they carry high levels of glutamate.

Professor Ikeda also set out to make a seasoning which could be used to increase umami in foods.  He found that the sodium salt of glutamate was ideal because it was soluble in water, resistant to humidity and had no flavor. Ikeda developed Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), the cleanest, purist way to increase umami in food.

Originally extracted from Kombu seaweed, today’s glutamate seasoning is made by fermentation of carbohydrate sources such as sugar cane and sugar beets. (Much like the way beer, wine and vinegar are made.) MSG is a free glutamic acid bound to a sodium molecule = monosodium glutamate.

MSG is the pure form of umami; it creates a more fully rounded flavor profile in food. Society has been tainted to believe that MSG is bad when, in fact, it is one of the most analyzed and safe ingredients of all.

Here are some MSG facts:

  • MSG has 70% less sodium than table salt.  Replacing table salt with MSG in recipes reduces sodium content. Unlike over-salting, more MSG, will not overpower the foods.
  • Useful in diets to reduce fat MSG adds umami in lieu of fat to make food more flavorful with less fat.
  • The body treats glutamate exactly the same way whether it comes from the food we eat or is added as a seasoning.
  • Glutamate is important for a healthy metabolism.
  • MSG is not an allergen, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
  • The USDA first designated MSG as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) in 1958.
  • The FDA reaffirmed MSG safety in 1995 based on a report from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

The “Wow Factor”

Professional Chefs understand meat or fish rich in umami combined with vegetables rich with free glutamates produces highly delicious tasting meals.

This balanced umami taste occurs from the synergy between glutamate, and naturally occurring nucleotides, called inosinate (meat based), and guanylate (plant based). Sparing the scientific details, in laymen’s terms, this is what creates the “Wow Factor” in the many of the meals we eat.

Favorite combinations such as, glutamate-rich onions, carrots and celery cooked with inosinate rich beef, deliver great tasting meals. Likewise, glutamate-rich tomatoes combined with ground beef makes  outstanding Bolognese sauce and aged cheddar on a burger intensify the favorite combo taste.

Sour, Bitter, Sweet, Salty and Savory. Umami is the fifth taste that creates a more fully rounded flavor profile in many of the foods we eat and love.

Additional Reading:, Vegetable Flavor Enhancers, MSG Facts


From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Is Your Self-Made Ground Beef Safe? | How to Manage Risk with In-House Ground Beef

Ground beef is versatile, delicious, relatively inexpensive and probably the most popular of all beef options. It’s a staple ingredient on just about every restaurant menu by way of meatloaf, meatballs, sauces, appetizers, hamburgers and more.

Many restaurants make their own in-house ground beef using trimmings created from cutting their own steaks and/or boxed beef primal cuts. This is also common practice in grocery stores and butcher shops. If you opt to do the same, how can you tell if your ground beef is really safe?

Bacteria 101 

People in the meat business live by this credo: Life begins at 40. 40°F is the critical temperature at which bacteria start to grow on meat.

Bacteria occur naturally everywhere around us in our environment. There are beneficial bacteria, and harmful bacteria. You’ve probably heard of probiotics, which contain beneficial types of bacteria. Much has been positively written about the so called “good” bacteria synonymous to yogurt and other like food products in recent years.

When working with ground beef there are two harmful types of bacteria of concern: Spoilage and Pathogenic.

Spoilage Bacteria are generally not harmful to humans. These are the types of bacteria that cause food to deteriorate creating bad odor, color or texture.  Many of us know that when meat smells foul we probably shouldn’t eat it. The good thing about Spoilage bacteria is it gives us detectable warning.

Pathogenic Bacteria are killers; they are very harmful to humans. These types of bacteria cause food-borne illness and cannot be seen or smelled: E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Campylobacter Jejuni, Listeria Monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus Aureus. Pathogenic bacteria are often thought upon as “hidden” killers because you can’t see, smell or taste them; they give us no detectable warning signs.

Pathogen Prevention in the Food Service Industry

Ground beef production in the Foodservice Industry is done under State or USDA Inspection. Wholesale ground beef producers must take measures to reduce both spoilage and pathogenic bacteria risks associated with ground beef to ensure public safety. Industry standards are strictly adhered to and some producers will electively incorporate additional safety measures to the established guidelines.

The safety process at Buedel Fine Meats begins with all ground beef raw material undergoing N=60 sampling, an elective but robust testing process in accordance with the Beef Industry Food Safety Council’s suggested Best Practices for ground beef which includes a laboratory Certificate of Analysis. We also voluntarily employ the use of a Pathogen Intervention System for boxed beef primal cuts to further increase food safety and conduct all ground beef production in a dedicated processing room kept under 40°F.

How Good is Pathogen Prevention in Restaurant Kitchens?

Unfortunately, pathogen bacterial prevention is challenging in restaurants for a variety of reasons. Many restaurants grind their own ground beef in back of the house kitchens. Often times grinding is taking place in temperatures way over 40°F because of the close proximity to ovens, grills and fryers being used.

A high risk of cross-contamination can also occur in restaurants cramped for space where fish, chicken, pork and beef prep are sometimes  done in the same area, on the same table, and possibly with the same knives. Sometimes meat is stored in the same cooler as dairy and produce and the door is continually opening throughout the day increasing the cooler temperature to over 40°F.  Many times meat is stored near the cooler door where the highest variation of temperature occurs.

All of these critical control points introduce pathogenic risk to a restaurant operation, but they are the types of risks that can be monitored and controlled with smart care. Conversely, there are also other risks which are harder to control when making in-house ground beef from steak trimmings or boxed beef.

It is important for restaurants to know that boxed beef is not pathogen tested at the packing plant. Deadly pathogens such as, E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Campylobacter Jejuni, if present, may exist on the exterior surface of the meat with no warning signs.

The only sure fire way for restaurants to kill these bacteria without pathogenic intervention, is to cook the meat to at least 160°F (well done). There is some flexibility with steaks and roasts where only the exterior surfaces need to reach 160°F, which still allows for the insides to be cooked to rare or medium.

Ground beef and burgers are quite a different story and a much greater risk. If deadly pathogens are present on the exterior surface of meat being used they will get mixed up and mixed in during the grinding process. If the ground beef or burgers then are not cooked to 160° (well done) completely through, then the possibility for customer illness occurs when pathogens are present giving you liability exposure.

How many of you or your customers order burgers well done? How many of us like our burgers a little pink on the inside? How many people do you know like to order their burgers “mooing”?

Best Practices for Safer Ground Beef

While sickness and death from pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 do not run rampant, they do occur. Keeping liability exposure to a minimum is a priority for all of us.

Here’s a checklist you can employ to reduce risk exposure and increase food safety:

  Record Accurate Information
Keep a log by vendor, including vendor establishment number pack dates, receive dates, raw material type, time used, quantity used, and any other plant-specific identification information provided. If there is an incident, your log will be helpful to trace back to the source and potentially reduce your liability.

 Store Raw Materials Properly
Place fresh beef raw material into cold storage and keep it’s temperature under 40°F.

 Employ Good Manufacturing Practices
Grind beef in an environment under 40°F. Train personnel on disease control, hygiene, and so forth. Instill sanitary operation procedures for general maintenance, cleaning, sanitizing, pest control and cross-contamination prevention.

  Use Pathogen Inhibitors                                                                                      There are USDA approved natural acid spray interventions you can use with a hand sprayer on meat prior to grinding. These sprays typically kill 99.9% of pathogens upon contact significantly reducing bacterial risks.

 Store Finished Products Correctly
Always keep fresh ground beef stored under 40°F, freeze if possible. Date stamp finished products by production date. Fresh ground beef is safest only for a few days if not vacuum sealed.

Rule of Thumb

Better safe than sorry is the way to go; grind your own beef with food safety in mind. Use best practice measures to reduce the risk of illness and liability from toxic pathogens.


From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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