10 Meaty Secrets Revealed


10 Meaty Secrets Revealed

Decode the claims on packaged meats to reveal what really matters when you’re scanning the butcher case

When it comes to picking a protein, you’ll find there’s a lot to digest before you sit down to eat. Nearly everything you buy at the supermarket comes with a story, a collection of proclamations that are as ambiguous as they are bold. The USDA has its hands full trying to regulate these claims, leaving a gaping hole for manufacturers to fill with fluff. So whether you’re planning to feast on fowl or binge on beef, be on high alert when meandering the meat section of your local market. Here are some clues to the most important-and commonly abused-terms in the industry.

The Claim: “Air Chilled”

The Truth: Standard practice for chicken processing includes dunking the birds in a frigid bath to keep bacteria at a minimum. Air-chilling skips the cold-water treatment in favor of placing chickens in cooling chambers. Manufacturers have proclaimed its cleansing superiority, but some studies do not support the theory. Both air chilling and immersion are comparable at reducing bacteria before packaging. Flavor, however, may indeed be superior, as the slow chilling can yield a more tender, less water-saturated chicken.

The Claim: “Free Range”

The Truth: If the claim conjures images of healthy birds roaming freely about rolling hills, feasting on nature’s delicacies, think again. Technically, free-range chickens must have access to the outdoors for at least 51 percent of their lives, but the USDA, which approves each manufacturer’s “free-range” claim on a case-by-case basis, does not strictly define “outdoors.” The term could mean anything from idyllic open acreage to a puny pen. Guess which is true for the majority of free-range chickens available in supermarkets?

The Claim: “Raise Without Antibiotics”

The Truth: Unlike the beef industry, big chicken producers have begun to curtail the use of antibiotics in recent years, addressing concerns that bacteria dangerous to humans could be developing drug resistance. Still, Tyson, Perdue, and others have been unable to wean their birds entirely off antibiotics, so this claim is worth something. A couple extra bucks a pound? That’s for you to decide.

The Claim: “Organic”

The Truth: The organic chicken industry has grown wildly in recent years. Big Agriculture has seen the potential profit boon of charging an average of 100% percent more for organic chickens, and they have secured the coveted (and often pricey) USDA stamp for what some activists argue are less-than-reputable practices. Look for two certification stamps-the Secretary of Agriculture seal and the USDA Organic seal-confirming that the animals were fed organic feed and had access to pasture. The chicken here was conventionally raised.

The Claim: “No Retained Water”

The Truth: When immersed in their cold-water baths after slaughter, poultry can absorb up to 8 percent of their body weight, diluting taste and nutrition. On top of added water, conventional poultry can be “enhanced” with salt. The USDA has ignored petitions to consider salt a food additive; in turn, some manufacturers have jacked up the sodium content of their chickens.

The Claim: “No Antibiotics Administered”

The Truth: Crowded feedlots are breeding grounds for bacteria, illness, and disease, which is one reason why most beef cattle are pumped full of antibiotics. The other reason: corn. Cows’ stomachs are designed to digest grass, but with cheap, subsidized corn in high supply, most cows in this country live on a diet consisting of 75 percent corn, 10 percent roughage, and 15 percent animal by-products. To fight off the ulcers, heartburn, and potentially fatal liver abscesses caused by this diet, the beef industry turns to antibiotics. Not only is it bad for the cow, but it’s also bad for you: Corn-fed beef is nearly twice as fatty as grass-fed beef and has lower concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids

The Claim: “No Growth Stimulants or Added Hormones”

The Truth: A good thing, to be sure, and decidedly rare in the world of industrial beef. About two-thirds of cows in the United States are treated with growth hormones to speed growth and ultimately maximize profit. While the USDA has deemed growth hormones safe for cattle and the humans who consume them, the European Union (EU) isn’t quite so sure. Over the years, researchers have raised concern over possible links between growth hormones and issues like premature development in girls, lower sperm count in men, and breast cancer, but the jury is still out on the final effects. The EU prohibits the use of growth hormones in the raising of cattle and has banned hormone-injected beef since 1988.

The Claim: “USDA Choice Beef”

The Truth: Not all steaks taste the same. The USDA grades beef based on marbling and the age of the animal, which affect the quality of your sizzling steak. The higher the degree of marbling-which is to say, the fattier-the more tender and flavorful (and caloric) the meat. You’ll probably never see a lower grade than Select at the supermarket, which is leaner than Prime and Choice grades, respectively the highest and second-highest grades. Pricey Prime is a rare supermarket find, too, considering just 2 percent of all beef is graded Prime and most of that goes to restaurants.

The Claim: “Product of the USA”

The Truth: A new required label as of September 2008, this Country of Origin Labeling is designed to inform consumers about the origins of their T-bone. Fish and most produce already required an origin label. For meat, it will indicate where the meat was raised, which sometimes includes multiple countries or an indication that the meat was brought to the United States for slaughter. The food industry fought the legislation for many years to avoid the burden and expense of the extra label, and some importers fear that US consumers may be less likely to buy imported beef labeled as such. Considering we import about 2.5 billion pounds of beef a year, expect vested interests to continue to duke it out.

The Claim: All Natural – Minimally Processed. Contains No Artificial Ingredients.

The Truth: You’ll see the word “natural” all over meat packaging, both beef and poultry. The meat industry became very fond of the term “natural” with the rising popularity of organic food. Producers of nonorganic foods worried that consumers would assume that conventional meat would translate into “chemical ridden,” which spurred almost all meat manufacturers to emblazon their products with the phrase “all natural.” It’s easy enough, since the USDA doesn’t carefully regulate the term-making it all but meaningless to the consumer.

 from Men’s Heatlh

Here is a recipe for a quick main dish salad…

              * Exported for MasterCook 4 by Living Cookbook *

                               Steak Nicoise

Serving Size  : 4
1      lb            flank steak
1/2  tsp           sea salt
1/2  tsp           coarsely ground black pepper
2      Tbs           extra virgin olive oil
1      Tbs           plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1      tsp           Dijon mustard
4                    red potatoes, skin on, each cut into eight wedges
1/2  lb            green beans, trimmed
1      cup           grape tomatoes, halved
1/4  cup           pitted Kalamata olives, sliced

1. Mist a broiler pan with oil. Coat both sides of the steak with the salt
and black pepper and place on pan. Broil 5 to 6 minutes per side or until
cooked through. Transfer to a cutting board and let sit 5 to 10 minutes; cut across the grain into thin strips.

2. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and mustard in a small bowl.

3. Place the potatoes in a pot with enough cold water to cover by 2 inches; bring to a boil. Boil until tender, about 10 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon and gently toss with 2 teaspoons dressing.

4. Add the green beans to the water; cook until bright green and
crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and run under cold water.

5. Arrange the steak, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and olives on a
platter. Drizzle remaining dressing over the top and serve
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