On March 1, USDA implemented new regulations requiring nutritional labeling on fresh meat and poultry products. It affects ground products as well.
Ground products must include both the lean and fat percentages, as in "87% lean, 13% fat". You'd think that consumers could figure out the fat. But nothing is being left to chance. Here's what has to be on the new labels:
* The header will list serving size in ounces; total calories, and total calories from fat.
* The following will be listed as amount per serving and percentage of the daily recommended allowance being met on a typical 2,000 calorie per day diet: Total and saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium (voluntary inclusion), total carbohydrate, protein, and certain vitamins and minerals prevalent in meat products such as iron, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin.
* If a given nutrient would contribute less than 2% of the recommended daily allowance, they can report it as "Not a significant source of dietary fiber, sugars, vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium."
Dual labeling option helpful
The new "dual labeling" option allows expressing nutrient content two ways – fresh and cooked product basis. The obvious advantage is a clear description of what we actually eat post-cooking.
For ground meat products, the difference can be significant. Fat, for instance, typically decreases in the cooked portion.
Why's it changing? USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen says: "This administration has had a really strong focus since the beginning on safe foods and expanding access to nutritional food for everybody. Consumers are more interested in what's in their food than they've ever been. We want to be supportive of that."
What about buying meat from the local butcher counter where purchases would presumably be wrapped on the spot? Apparently, it'll be acceptable to have a poster of nutritional information available on display.
Small businesses that grind meat and poultry are exempt from the rule – provided they provide lean and fat information and don't make other nutritional claims, such as "antibiotic-free."
Will new nutritional labels make any real difference? Clearly, more consumers are asking for the information. Whether they know how to interpret it and whether it really affects their food purchases is another question.
If you're involved in meat retailing or just want to learn more, contact National Cattlemen's Beef Association Retail Marketing Team at www.beefretail.org/contactus.aspx. Or call USDA's toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline: 1-888-MPHotline.
Harpster is a Penn State animal scientist and a beef cow-calf producer.