What Is "Grade A" Meat?

Recently a friend of mine stated that he began living healthier and had given up on fast food restaurants.  One of the reasons he quit eating fast food was because he heard they use ‘Grade F’ meat.

Although I think it to be wonderful that he has found healthier food alternatives, we need to fully understand the different standards of qualities of meat products.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is the agency responsible for grading the quality of meat and poultry that is available at your local grocery store. Grading is based on the evaluation of tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of meat; and for poultry, a fully fleshed meat free of defects.

All meats purchased by consumers must have met grading criteria by the USDA based on Federal standards of quality.  Beef and poultry will show the grade mark on the package if they have been officially graded.

Beef – graded in two ways:

  • Quality grades – for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor.  Marketed as Prime Grade or Choice Grade.
  • Yield grades – for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass. Grades are based on the amount of marbling, color, and maturity of the meat.  Grade 1 is the highest usable amount of meat, grade 5 is the lowest.  This grading may be most useful when purchasing ane ntire carcass to be stored in a home freezer.

Lamb- Beef, veal, and lamb in market purchases are generally labeled with two qualities: prime and choice. Prime is best for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Choice is high quality but with less marbling.

PorkPork is not graded with USDA grades as the animals have been fed to produce a uniformly tender meat.

The USDA rates poultry into grades A, B, and C.

  • Grade A is the highest quality, most commonly seen at markets where meat is fresh, has not been cooked, or only recently cooked and ready for consumption.
  • Grades B and C are usually used for processed products where the poultry is chopped or ground up.

For more information about meat and poultry grading, go to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Web site .

So in regards to my friend’s comment.  There is no such thing a Grade F meat. Fast food restaurants may cheapen their products by using lower grades of meat, but by no means are the standards so low that consumers cannot eat them.

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Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

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