Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What is ground beef? The answer depends on the producer.

Ground beef seems like a simple product. It's a piece of meat that has gone through the grinder, right? Not necessarily. Mass-produced ground beef can be quite different from its counterpart created by small farms and small processors.

A few weeks ago, I chatted with Michael Glos from Kingbird Farms to learn more about the beef produced by his family farm. Gloss says he and his wife, Karma Glos, have high standards for the food their farm produces, including his animals’ well being, right through their last hours. “We take a lot of time, effort, and expense to raise animals individually,” he says. “And if they were abused or adulterated in their last 2 or 24 hours, that would all be for nothing.”

Kingbird Farms has their cattle processed at Leona Meats in Pennsylvania. Closer butchers are either not USDA inspected, only deal with halves or whole animals (instead of individual cuts), or fail to pass Glos’s standards. “We have a laundry list of deal-breakers,” he says, when choosing facilities to process meat.

The main reason that Glos chose Leona Meats is transparency. He can observe the entire operation, from start to finish. Animals are not pushed with prods by disgruntled employees. Meat is not sprayed with disinfectant solutions and sausage and other products can be made without MSG or nitrites. The plant is Animal Welfare Approved and certified organic.

Leona Meats processes a single farms’ animals at a time, meaning that ground beef or sausage with the Kingbird Farms label will only contain Kingbird Farms meat (that is not the case with all small butchers, which sometimes lump meat together to keep costs down). And, they vacuum-pack the cuts of meat right there. As for food safety, Glos says that they have excellent trackback capability.

“Ideally, we’d like to process animals on our farm,” says Glos, but that’s not possible at this time due to expense and regulatory hurdles. For now, he is willing to deal with the added cost and logistical challenges of using an out-of-state processor instead of settling on his standards.

For contrast, consider how large-scale processors produce ground beef (although keep in mind that most major meat processors will not allow visitors to see the entire operation). One meat processor Beef Products Inc combines beef trimmings from many animals slaughtered at other factories and uses “a pH enhancement process that forms ammonium hydroxide in the finished product,” which helps reduce contamination by e coli and salmonella. The final product is packaged in 60-pound frozen blocks, which later becomes part of ground beef found at retail and in school lunches. In other words, in the industrial food system, ground beef is not simply a piece of ground meat.

And, speaking of ground beef, here's information about the latest ground beef recall.

Note: Ithaca's Food Web previously posted about ground beef safety.

No comments:

Post a Comment