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MEAT AND POULTRY
LABELS WRAP IT UP...
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Have you read any good
meat and poultry labels
lafly? Once you find a product in the supermarket -
beef stew, for instance, you want to know everything that comes inside
The label wraps it up with what you, the consumer, need to know
about the product. If you want to know if the beef stew contains vegeta-
bles, or if it contains more beef than stew or more stew than beef it's
all on the label.
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Who approves the
label? The U.S. Department of USDA
Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and
Inspection Service (FSIS) approves labels '
for all products that contain at least 2
percent poultry or 3 percent meat. This
is part of the Federal.meat and poul-
try inspection program. Labels for
other products are approved by the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Seven things must be on a label
before USDA will approve it: (1) the
product name, (2) a list of its ingre-
dients, (3) its weight, (4) the official
USDA inspection stamp, (5) the
number of the plant where it was
produced, (6) the producer's or dis-
tributor's name and address, and (7)
handling instructions, if the product
is perishable. (See "Six Steps to
Easy Label Reading" which shows
where you can find all this on the label.)
Many manufacturers include more information on the label. You
may see handling, storing, and cooking directions, for instance. Some
have cooking tips, suggested menus, and nutrition information.
Giving the product
a nam e USDA sets standards for how much meat and
poultry must be in items using certain names. For example, "Beef with
Gravy" must contain at
least 50 percent cooked
beef, while "Gravy
b with Beef"
contains only 35 percent cooked beef. Meat and poultry processors may
add more meat or poultry than is required in a product. However, if less
than the required amount is added, the processors must give the prod-
uct a different name.
USDA standards also limit the amount of fat, moisture, and other
ingredients that can be added to meat and poultry products. The chart
below gives standards for some popular meat and poultry products.
The picture on the label strongly influences buyers, so it must be
honest, too. If the label shows five slices of beef, at least five must be
inside. And when a picture shows fancy extras that are not part of the
product, such as cranberry sauce or lemon slices, they must be identi-
fied as "suggested servings."
What's in the
All ingredients used in the product recipe must
be listed in the ingredients statement. The main
ingredient comesfirst. Others, including additives,
follow in order by weight.
Additives such as natural spices and flavorings
can be listed as a group "spices" or "flavorings."
However, preservatives, artificial flavorings or
colors, and other additives must each be named.
Why are additives used in meat
and poultry products?
Additives have been used in food throughout
history Salt has long been used to preserve meat.
Sugar and corn syrup are also widely used.
f Additives serve many purposes in foods.
They prevent salad dressing from separating,
salt from becoming lumpy, and packaged good
from spoiling on the grocery shelf. They also
give margarine its yellow color and keep
cured meat safe to eat. But before an additive
Cf can be used in a meat or poultry product, it
i must be approved by USDA.
Consumers who must avoid certain sub-
stances in their diet can read product labels
and learn the names of additives. On some
Sz labels, the purpose for these ingredients may
also be listed. The chart on page 5 lists some
S approved additives that can be found in
meat and poultry and the purpose for their
use in these products.
HOW nU triti ol iS It? While more and more labels
are providing nutrition information for consumers, it is not usually
required on meat and poultry products. Products bearing special claims
such as "low-calorie" and "low sodium" are exceptions; processors must
explain what these claims mean. The low-calorie label, for instance,
must prove its value to dieters. To do this, some manufacturers list the
calories, protein, carbohydrates and fat in a single product serving.
This is called the short nutrition list.
Others may use a longer nutrition list that gives basic information
in the short list, plus a chart on the U.S. Recommended Daily Allow-
ances (RDA's). The U.S. RDA's show what percentage of the daily recom-
mended amounts of protein and certain vitamins and minerals you can
get in a single serving.
Here are other popular claims that may be seen on meat and poul-
"Natural" means that the meat or poultry product is minimally
processed and that it contains no artificial flavors, colors, or
"Imitation" is used on products made to resemble or substitute for
other products. "Imitation sausage" for instance, must appear on prod-
ucts that look like sausage, but do not contain the specific ingredients
required by USDA product standards.
"Irradiation" is a newly approved
process for controlling certain microorgan -
isms in some meat products. Irradiated
foods must be labeled "treated with radi-
ation" or "treated by irradiation," and the
irradiation logo must be shown on the label.
Various sodium claims appear on pro-
ducts with reduced sodium contents. These
claims are based on the amount of sodium
in a serving size. Processors must use one
of the following:
"The irradiation logo"
"Sodium Free" or "Salt Free" -
products must contain 5 milligrams (mg.)
or less sodium per serving.
"Very Low Sodium" -products must
contain 35 mg. or less sodium per serving.
"Low Sodium" -products must contain 140 mg. or less sodium per
"Unsalted" or "No Salt Added" products processed without
salt. Caution: These products
Smay contain other sources of
/ sodium such as monosodium
glutamate. Check the ingredi-
S"Reduced Sodium"- products
must contain 75 percent less sodium
than the traditional product.
"Lower or Less Salt or Sodium"--
products must contain at least 25 percent less
sodium than the traditional product.
Fat claims are used on pro-
ducts that are naturally low in
fat or that have a reduced fat
content. They are:
"Extra lean"-- products
must contain 5 percent or less
fat. Actual amount must be indi-
cated on the label.
"Lean" and "low fat"--pro-
ducts must contain 10 percent
or less fat. The amount of fat
must. be indicated on the label.
Some products may be labeled
"Lite" "lighter," "leaner,"
and "lower fat" -products
must contain 25 percent
less fat than similar A
products on the ,-
*`Lite" can have
sodium, or breading
of a product. Reading
the label can help you
choose the product
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Inspection mark says
itIS SS1t From the farm to the grocery store, USDA
inspectors check meat and poultry to ensure that safely prepared,
properly labeled products reach consumers. The official USDA
inspection mark or stamp is your proof that the product was inspected.
You can find the inspection
AND PASSED BY
amp on processed meat and on
poultry products such as canned
beef stew and chicken franks.
The stamps include the
number of the plant in which
the product was produced.
The plant number is pre-
ceded with the letters "EST."
for "establishment" on
processed meats, and with
the letter "P" on poultry
This data makes it easy for
USDA to refer to the plant that
produced the product should a
Although, it is not part of
the inspection stamp, the name
and address of the company
that made the product must
A 4 also appear on the label. This
is the company you can
y \ contact if you have a prob-
lem or question about the
C/ product. To help you, the
company may ask specific
MENT OF information about the
ULTURE product, such as the lot or
SUbatch number if it's included
42 on the package and the net
The lot or batch number tells
on what day and on what shift the
products were produced. If the products are
recalled from the market, the numbers identify
The net weight tells the weight
of the contents inside the
container. It must be on
the label and can be
shown in pounds
Some products are inspected by inspection programs run by States.
State-inspected products must meet standards equal to those of the
Federal Government. These products must show a State inspection
mark and can be sold only within that State.
Dates and handling
ijnfstUCtion Many products have dates on them, even
though dating is optional. The date stamped on product packages can
indicate product freshness and can serve as a guide to safe storage
time, provided consumers know how to use it.
What do they mean? The "Sell-by" date is the last day the product
should be sold.
The "Use-by" date tells
you how long the product .
will retain top eating quality
after you buy it.
Some products may
have an "Expiration Date;"
which tells you the last
day the food should be
eaten or used.
Canned and packaged
foods have "Pack" dates
which tell you when..
the product was -
is the best way to en-
sure products remain safe to
eat. Today the packaging of products
that need refrigeration is similar to
packaging for products that can be
stored on the shelf. Therefore, it is ne-
cessary to follow the directions on the label
to make sure you handle the product properly
All perishable products must give handling instructions,
such as "Keep Frozen" or "Keep Refrigerated." Some meat
and poultry products may be labeled "Ready-to-
Eat" or "Fully Cooked," which means no fur-
ther cooking is necessary. Other product
) I labels may have directions on how long
Sand at what temperature to cook a product.
These directions are not required nor
Verified by USDA. When cooking instruc-
tions are not included on the label, your
best bet is to thoroughly cook the
About Meat and Poultry Labels?
Call USDA's Meat and Poultry
Hotline 800-535-4555 *
Washington, D.C. area residents call 447-3333*
Staffed by home economists, the hotline operates week-
days from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., eastern time. Our hotline ex-
perts can help you better understand meat and poultry
labels, and answer your questions on the proper handling of
meat and poultry to keep them safe to eat.
They can also tell you how to handle problems with
meat and poultry products.
To report a problem product, first refrigerate it if pos-
sible, in the original container. Second, notify the store
where you bought it. Then call the Hotline. They'll tell you
what you should do, and whether health authorities should
You can also write to:
The Meat and Poultry Hotline
USDA-FSIS, Rm. 1165-S
Washington, D.C. 20250
*These numbers are accessible by Telecommunications
Devices for the Deaf.
For More Labeling Information,
You Can Order:
1. FSIS Facts Food Additives, FSIS-16, March 1982.
2. Meat and Poultry Products A Consumer Guide to Con-
tent and Labeling Requirements. Home and Garden Bul-
letin No. 236, July 1981.
For Information on the Safe Handling of Meat and Poultry,
You Can Order:
1. THE SAFE FOOD BOOK Your Kitchen Guide. Home &
Garden Bulletin No. 241, December 1984.
2. TALKING ABOUT TURKEY How to Buy, Store, Thaw,
Stuff, and Prepare Your Holiday Bird. Home & Garden
Bulletin No. 243, July 1984.
3. SAFE FOOD TO GO A Guide to Packing Lunches, Pic-
nicking & Camping Out. Home & Garden Bulletin No. 242,
Single free copies of the publications are available
FSIS Publications Office,
USDA, Rm. 1165-S
Washington, D.C. 20250
Binders and Extenders help to hold a meat or poultry product
together and also aid in retaining product moisture.
Curing is often done by adding a limited amount of nitrite in
combination with salt during processing. These curing ingredients give
products, such as bacon and turkey ham, their characteristic taste and
Skeletal Meat refers to muscular tissues that remain attached to the
animal's bone structure when muscles used for major meat cuts are
Meat Byproducts (also called "Variety Meats")- are the edible
animal parts other than the muscle and skeletal meat. When variety
meats, such as organ meat, are used in products, the terms "Meat
Byproducts" or "Variety Meats," are included in the product name.
Rancidity -occurs when fat is exposed to oxygen. Exposure to oxygen
causes fat molecules to break down quickly resulting in a stale, rancid
odor in the product. Antioxidants, such as BHA and BHT, are used to
slow this process and extend the shelf-life of meat and poultry
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