“Meat” You at the Finish Line

Including meat in your diet can provide many benefits. Meat contains nutrients like protein, vitamin B and E, as well as zinc and iron, that are essential for muscles and bone health. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines provide a glimpse into recommended protein intake and tell us that most Americans consume close to the recommended amount of protein (although some groups fall short).

We’ve already covered animal welfare, meat processing, and labeling.  Let’s take some time to explore the final steps of meat processing before it ends up on our plate and provides us with all those important nutrients.  

Post-Processing Handling, Storage and Packaging

After meat has been processed, it needs to be handled and labeled correctly to prevent spoilage and to ensure a safe transfer to your grocery store.

Buyers of large quantities of meat (hotels, airlines, supermarkets and restaurants) must abide by the USDA’s Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications that detail meat handling, packaging and packing, and USDA certification. These specifications establish important guidelines such as:

  • The temperatures that meat must arrive in stores at in order to be accepted.  For instance, if meat arrives chilled, it needs to be no higher than 40°F and no lower than 28°F.
  • How meat should be packaged and even what specific materials are needed for different meat.
  • The maker’s name and certification, as well as grade and date of slaughter.  

Buyers can ensure that sellers follow these guidelines by making sure the meat is a part of a USDA voluntary Meat Certification service. Sellers should participate in this in order to be classified as ‘safe’ by commercial buyers.

From this point, it is the commercial buyers’ duty to ensure proper refrigeration or freezing of meat until either a consumer buys it or it is cooked in their facility (i.e. restaurant).

It’s time to eat!

Now that you’ve picked up your meat from the grocery store, how do you safely prepare it? Use the following four steps to ensure safe food handling:

  • Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate: Separate raw meats from other foods.
  • Cook: Ensure food is cooked to the correct internal temperature.
  • Chill: Refrigerate food as soon as possible, but absolutely within 1.5 hours after cooking.

You are now armed with an arsenal of knowledge on how meat goes safely from farm to fork. All steps in the process are vital to ensure that consumers know what type of product they are getting and that it is safe and wholesome. With this information, you can feel more confident in meat purchases and more knowledgeable in meat quality standards when shopping for their favorite products. 

This blog post was written by Danielle Corrado, food science/policy intern from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Laura Kubitz, andTamika Sims, PhD