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Wholesomeness...quality...nutritive value...cost... convenience...and informative labeling are some of the points to consider when making meat purchase decisions.

Also consider the amount of meat that can be stored in the freezer, the amount of raw meat that can be used within a few days of purchase, and the kinds of cuts and quality preferred.

Wholesomeness

All meat processed in plants which sell their products across State lines must, under Federal law, be inspected for wholesomeness by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. This mandatory inspection program is paid for by tax dollars. Many States
operate their own inspection program for plants that produce meat for sale within State lines. These programs must be certified by USDA as equal to the Federal program. Federal and State inspectors supervise the cleanliness and operating procedures of meat packing and processing plants to make sure meat is not contaminated or adulterated.

Meat that has passed Federal inspection for wholesomeness is stamped with a round purple mark, "U.S. INSP'D & P'S'D." The mark is put on carcasses and major cuts, so it might not appear on such cuts as roasts and steaks. However, meat that is packaged in an inspected facility will have an inspection legend which identifies the plant on the label.

Wholesomeness...quality...nutritive value...cost... convenience...and informative labeling are some of the points to consider when making meat purchase decisions.

Also consider the amount of meat that can be stored in the freezer, the amount of raw meat that can be used within a few days of purchase, and the kinds of cuts and quality preferred.

Wholesomeness

All meat processed in plants which sell their products across State lines must, under Federal law, be inspected for wholesomeness by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. This mandatory inspection program is paid for by tax dollars. Many States
operate their own inspection program for plants that produce meat for sale within State lines. These programs must be certified by USDA as equal to the Federal program. Federal and State inspectors supervise the cleanliness and operating procedures of meat packing and processing plants to make sure meat is not contaminated or adulterated.

Meat that has passed Federal inspection for wholesomeness is stamped with a round purple mark, "U.S. INSP'D & P'S'D." The mark is put on carcasses and major cuts, so it might not appear on such cuts as roasts and steaks. However, meat that is packaged in an inspected facility will have an inspection legend which identifies the plant on the label.

Picture of Inspection Stamps

Labeling for Safety

Meat inspection procedures are designed to minimize the likelihood of harmful bacteria being present in meat products. However, some bacteria could be present and could become a problem if the meat is not handled properly. That's why it's important to handle meat properly during storage and preparation. USDA requires that safe handling and cooking instructions be put on all packages of raw meat. This includes any meat product not considered "ready to eat."

picture of safe handling instructions

Processed meat products that are considered "ready-to-eat" -- such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, or canned ham -- are also perishable. They should be refrigerated and handled with care to prevent spoilage.

Information about meat inspection and safety should be directed to USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline. The national toll free number is 800-535-4555. In the Washington, DC, area, call (202) 720-3333.

Nutritive Value

Meat is a source of protein, niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. Fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol are also present in all meat; the amount varies depending on the species, the cut of meat, and the amount of marbling (fat) that is distributed within the lean. Use the Nutrition Facts panel on each individual product label to learn about the nutrient content of that food and how it fits into an overall daily diet. The Nutrition Facts panel must appear on all processed meat products, while its use is voluntary on single-ingredient raw meat.

Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol to help reduce the risk of getting certain diseases and to help maintain a healthy weight. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests choosing a diet containing 30 percent or less of calories from fat, and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids. Also, some health authorities suggest that dietary cholesterol be limited to an average of 300 milligrams or less per day.

The Food Guide Pyramid suggests 2 to 3 servings each day of food from the meat group, the equivalent of 5 to 7 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish. Count as a serving 2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, about the size of an average hamburger or a deck ofplaying cards.

Tips: Buy lean cuts of meat, those with less marbling (fat) distributed within the lean. Most of the visible fat is trimmed before meat is sold to consumers, and any remaining visible fat can be trimmed off. Ground beef can contain variable amounts of fat. To reduce fat in cooked meats, broil, roast, bake, simmer, or microwave meat rather than fry. Drain and discard any fat that accumulates during cooking. Organ meats are high in cholesterol and should only be eaten occasionally. When you select cuts of meat with a higher fat content, balance your fat intake by choosing other foods that are low in fat.

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