Inspection & Grading

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Cooks are assisted in their evaluation of meats by a federal inspection and grading system.


1.Inspection is a guarantee of wholesomeness, not of quality or tenderness. It means that the animal
was not diseased and the meat is clean and fit for human consumption.

2. It is indicated by a round stamp

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3. It is required by federal law-all meat must be inspected.

Quality Grading

Quite apart from the wholesomeness of meat is its quality -- its tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Consumers can be assured of always getting the quality of meat they expect by looking for the USDA grade shield on raw meat packages. The shield-shaped USDA grade mark is a guide to the quality of meat. It's also your assurance that the meat is wholesome because only meat that has first passed inspection for wholesomeness may be graded. USDA's quality grading program is voluntary and paid for by user fees.

USDA's Meat Grading Program

USDA has quality grades for beef, veal, lamb, yearling mutton, and mutton. It also has yield grades for beef, pork, and lamb. Although there are USDA quality grades for pork, these do not carry through to the retail level as do the grades for other kinds of meat.

USDA meat grades are based on nationally uniform Federal standards of quality. They are applied by experienced USDA graders, who are routinely checked by supervisors who travel throughout the country to make sure that all graders are interpreting and applying the standards in a uniform manner. A USDA Choice rib roast, for example, must have met the same grade criteria no matter where or when you buy it.

When meat is graded, a shield-shaped purple mark is stamped on the carcass. With today's close trimming at the retail level, however, you may not see the USDA grade shield on meat cuts at the store. Instead, retailers put stickers with the USDA grade shield on individual packages of meat. In addition, grade shields and inspection legends may appear on bags containing larger wholesale cuts.

Meat Stamps

Using USDA Meat Grades

Since many cuts of meat -- such as steaks, chops, and roasts -- are labeled with a USDA grade, you don't have to be a meat expert to identify the quality you want.

Just look in the meat counter or case until you find the cut you want. Then, look for the USDA quality shield on the package to make sure you're getting the quality you want.

Some meat counters may contain meat that isn't USDA graded. Instead, it may be labeled with a company's private quality label or sold without a grade. Where this occurs, you will need to become familiar with the purchase specifications of each company to be sure of the quality you are buying.

Sometimes a store will advertise that it sells USDA-graded meat, but the individual packages don't bear a USDA grade shield. When this happens, you can ask to see some of the boxes of untrimmed wholesale cuts to determine if the meat has actually been graded by USDA and what the quality is.

All these factors must be considered together. For example, old, tough meat can still have marbling, but it would
rate a low grade because of the other factors.


Before recent revisions in the USDA grading system, two other factors were considered in grading meats: conformation, or the shape of the carcass; and finish, or the distribution and quality of exterior fat.

Yield Grading

In addition to quality grading, beef are graded according to how much usable meat in proportion to fat they have.
The meatiest grade is Yield Grade 1.
Poorest yield (much exterior fat) is Yield Grade 5.

There are five grades for Veal/Calf: prime, choice, good, standard, and utility.

* Prime and choice grades are juicier and more flavorful than the lower grades. Because of the young age of the animals, the meat will be a light grayish-pink to light pink, fairly firm and velvety. The bones are small, soft, and quite red. Cuts such as chops can be cooked by the dry-heat method of grilling or broiling.

There are five grades for lamb. Normally only two grades are found at the retail level – prime and choice. Lower grades of lamb and mutton (meat from older sheep) – good, utility, and cull -- are seldom marked with the grade. Lamb is produced from animals less than a year old. Since the quality of lamb varies according to the age of the animal, it is advisable to buy lamb that has been USDA graded.

* Prime grade - is very high in tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Its marbling enhances both flavor and juiciness.
* Choice grade - has slightly less marbling than prime, but still is of very high quality. Most cuts of prime and choice grade lamb (chops, roasts, shoulder cuts, and leg) are tender and can be cooked by the dry-heat methods (broiling, roasting, or grilling). The less tender cuts – breast, riblets, neck, and shank – can be cooked slowly by the moist-heat method (braising) to make them more tender.
Pork is not graded with USDA quality grades as it is generally produced from young animals that have been bred and fed to produce more uniformly tender meat. Appearance is an important guide in buying fresh pork. Look for cuts with a relatively small amount of fat over the outside and with meat that is firm and grayish pink in color. For best flavor and tenderness, meat should have a small amount of marbling.

Pork's consistency makes it suitable for a variety of cooking styles. Chops can be prepared by pan broiling, grilling, baking, braising, or sautéing. Ribs can be braised, roasted, or grilled. Slow cooking yields the most tender and flavorful results. Tenderloins are considered to be the most tender and tasty cut of pork.

Poultry Grading and Inspection
What's the Difference?

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U.S. Grade A Poultry

* Quality means "The inherent properties of a product that determine its relative degree of excellence."
* Product is continuously monitored by USDA graders and assigned a grade based on the following quality factors:
Exposed flesh, defeathering, discolorations, broken bones, missing parts, freezing defects, conformation or shape, fleshing, and fat covering.
* Grading is a voluntary service paid for by poultry processors. Not all poultry is USDA graded.

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U.S. Inspected Poultry

* Inspection refers to the safety of poultry and poultry products and the accuracy of their labels.
* Both the products and the plants' systems for sanitation and preparation of products are inspected to assure that they are safe.
* Inspection involves only those properties related to wholesomeness and labeling, not quality.
* Inspection is mandatory and required by law, with minor exceptions.

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