Inspection And Grading

Figure 10.2

USDA grade stamp for meat

Cooks and food service operators in the United States are assisted in their evaluation of meats by a federal inspection and grading system.


1. Inspection is a guarantee of wholesomeness, not of quality or tenderness. It means the animal was not diseased and the meat is clean and fit for human consumption.

2. That the meat passed inspection is indicated by a round stamp (Figure 10.1).

3. Inspection is required by U.S. federal law. All meat must be inspected.


1. Grading is a quality designation.

2. The grade is indicated by a shield stamp (Figure 10.2).

3. Grading is not required by U.S. law. (Some packers use a private grading system and give different brand names to different grades. Reliability of private grades depends on the integrity of the packer.)

Quality grading is based on the texture, firmness, and color of the lean meat, the age or maturity of the animal, and the marbling (the fat within the lean).

All these factors must be considered together. For example, old, tough meat can still have marbling, but it would rate a low grade because of the other factors.Table 10.1 summarizes USDA meat grades.


In addition to quality grading, beef and lamb are graded according to how much usable meat in proportion to fat they have.This is called yield-grading.The meatiest grade is Yield Grade 1. Poorest yield (much exterior fat) is Yield Grade 5.

Pork is yield-graded from 1 to 4, but most pork is sold already cut and trimmed. Veal,which has little fat, is not yield-graded.

Table 10.1

USDA Meat Grades






Highest quality, highest price, limited supply.




Pork used in food service is consistent in quality and is not quality graded. It is inspected for whole-someness and graded for yield.

High in quality, generally tender and juicy. Abundant supply. Widely used in food service as well as in retail.




Lean meat,not as fine or tender. Economical. Can be tender and flavorful if cooked carefully. Used in many institutional food service operations.




Least frequently used in food service. Highest of these grades are sometimes used in institutional food service. Lowest of these grades are used by canners and processors.







Utility Cull

Note: Quality varies within grades. For example, the best Choice beef is close to Prime,while the lowest Choice beef is close to Select.

Note: Quality varies within grades. For example, the best Choice beef is close to Prime,while the lowest Choice beef is close to Select.

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