Focus on Ground Beef
about "ground meat" or "hamburger" have always been in the top five food topics
of calls to the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline. Here are the most frequently
What's the difference between "hamburger" and "ground beef"?
Beef fat may be added to "hamburger," but not "ground beef," if the meat is
ground and packaged at a USDA-inspected plant. A maximum of 30% fat by weight is
allowed in either hamburger or ground beef. Both hamburger and ground beef can
have seasonings, but no water, phosphates, extenders, or binders added. They
must be labeled in accordance with Federal Standards and Labeling Policy and
marked with a USDA-inspected label.
Most ground beef is ground and packaged in local stores rather than in food
processing plants under USDA inspection. Even so, the Federal labeling laws on
fat content apply. Most states and cities set standards for store-packaged
ground beef which, by law, cannot be less than Federal standards. If products in
retail stores were found to contain more than 30% fat by weight, they would be
considered "adulterated" under Federal law.
Is ground beef inspected and graded?
All meat transported and sold in interstate commerce must be
federally inspected. The larger cuts are usually shipped to local stores where
they are ground. The Food Safety and Inspection Service carries out USDA's
responsibilities under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. These laws protect
consumers by ensuring that meat products are wholesome, unadulterated, and
properly marked, labeled, and packaged.
For meat being transported and sold within a state, state inspection would
apply. State inspection programs must enforce requirements at least equal to
those of Federal inspection laws.
Grades are assigned as a standard of quality only. It is voluntary for a company
to hire a Federal inspector to certify the quality of its product. Beef grades
are USDA Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and
Canner. They are set by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. Most ground
beef is not graded.
From what cuts of beef are ground beef and hamburger made?
Generally, ground beef is made from the less tender and less
popular cuts of beef. Trimmings from more tender cuts may also be used. Grinding
tenderizes the meat and the fat reduces its dryness and improves flavor.
What is the significance of the "Sell-By" date on the package?
"Sell-By" dates are a guide for retailers.
Although many products bear "Sell-By" dates, product dating is not a Federal
requirement. While these dates are helpful to the retailer, they are reliable
only if the food has been kept at proper temperature during storage and
handling. USDA suggests that consumers cook or freeze ground beef within 2 days
after purchase for maximum quality.
United States Department of
Food Safety and Inspection Service