Ground Beef and Hamburger Q and A’s

Questions about “ground meat” or “hamburger” have always been in the top five food topics of calls to the USDA. Here are the most frequently asked questions and some interesting facts and Did You Know’s.

What’s the difference between “hamburger” and “ground beef”?

Beef fat may be added to “hamburger,” but not “ground beef,” if the meat is ground and packaged at a USDA-inspected plant. A maximum of 30% fat by weight is allowed in either hamburger or ground beef. Both hamburger and ground beef can have seasonings, but no water, phosphates, extenders, or binders added. They must be labeled in accordance with Federal Standards and Labeling Policy and marked with a USDA-inspected label.

The term ‘ground beef’ refers to meat that can contain up to 30% fat. Ground Chuck is from the shoulder of the carcass and ranges from 15% to 27% fat. It makes the best hamburgers, with enough fat to give both excellent flavor and texture. Ground Round and Ground Sirloin may be low in fat, but they make for dry hamburgers unless cooked no more than medium rare.

What are some of the most common cuts of meat used in ground beef production?

The chuck, cut from the shoulder,  is an extremely popular cut utilized in ground beef production.  The complex of muscles help the animal to walk and as a result these muscles have more connective tissue than other cuts.  Chuck gives a desirable flavor that is preferred in many ground beef applications.

What is the safe food handling label now on meat and poultry packages?

A safe food handling label should be on all raw or partially precooked (not ready-to-eat) meat and poultry packages. The label tells the consumer how to safely store, prepare, and handle raw meat and poultry products in the home.

Why is vacuum-packed ground beef sometimes grayish in color in its package?

The packaging removes air from meat to preserve it and maintain its shelf life, and without air, the meat darkens. When the package is opened, the meat will oxidize and “bloom,” returning to its natural, rosy color.

What are the Ideal Storage Temperatures for Ground Beef?

Optimum holding for fresh meat is between 28 and 35 degrees.

What are the proper Ground Beef Cooking Temperature Guidelines?

The FDA recommends that in foodservice operations ground beef be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees and then held for 15 seconds.

Can you explain the beef cattle cycle as it relates to supply and price?

Of the 4 major proteins for sale, the beef cycle is by far the longest.  This can impact both the supply and price of beef.  Starting with the gestation cycle, it takes about 285 days for the calve to be born.  From there the process can take from 16 to 20 months to achieve an ideal weight of 1300 lbs. The growth of cattle is also impacted by the season in which it is raised also.  One must also take into consideration female calves that are put aside to eventually have calves themselves.  Thus, if the heard is low it is a long process to build it back up as compared to a protein like chicken, which can impact the numbers in merely 3 months.  Other factors that can impact the heard are drought and cost of feed.

What Does “Natural” Mean?

All fresh meat qualifies as “natural.” Products labeled “natural” cannot contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient; and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed (ground, for example). All products claiming to be natural should be accompanied by a brief statement which explains what is meant by the term “natural.”

Some companies promote their beef as “Never Ever” because they claim their cattle weren’t exposed to antibiotics or hormones and are given an vegetarian diet.  Many of these cattle are finished in the final 60 days with grain to promote marbling and flavor.  These cattle will grow to around 1200 lbs. but unlike regular cattle that achieve this weight in 16-20 months, these “Natural” cattle can take from 24-26 months to achieve their ideal weight.