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May Is Beef Month: Choices, Choices, Choices!

[1]Orange City, Iowa — May is Beef Month and consumers have a variety of choices when purchasing beef at the grocery store.

According to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Beef Specialist Beth Doran, the beef industry offers something for everyone in terms of culinary options.

Beef producers, packers, and retailers consistently try to provide beef products that meet consumer preferences, according to Doran.  She says currently there are products with specific genetics, animal management protocols, carcass characteristics, and ease of preparation, and sometimes, a combination of these.

USDA certifies some beef products according to the genetic makeup of the animal (haircoat color and markings) and carcass characteristics (such as marbling). For instance, some labels might include the name of the breed such as Angus, Hereford, or Wagyu.

There is also a wide variety of beef products relating to how the animals are raised. Common categories include grain-finished, grass-fed, certified organic, and never-ever (no antibiotics or hormones). USDA approves these labels for beef based on specific criteria. Just new to this category is Low Carbon Beef LLC – a USDA process verified provider for beef produced with reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Doran, another popular label is ‘natural,’ which is more difficult to define because this label is defined and regulated by the company owning the brand.

USDA’s definition of “natural” is a food product with minimal processing, no artificial ingredients, and no preservatives. However, the USDA definition does not specify specific management practices during the life of the animal.

USDA does have specific standards for the quality grade of carcasses that are based upon the amount of marbling. Marbling is the small flecks of fat interspersed within the lean muscle and relates to the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of the beef. Common quality grades at retail include Prime, Choice, and Select.

According to Doran, all quality grades are nutritious but may require different methods of cooking to achieve the same eating satisfaction.

In addition to nutrition, today there are forms of beef that save time in preparation, cooking and cleanup.