• Monday, July 20, 2020

    Dates on Foods

    Dates on food packaging are often used by consumers to determine if food should be eaten or not. 

    Actually, there is no requirement to put sell-by or use-by dates on foods (except baby formula). Those dates are provided for convenience to allow the stores and companies to know when the food will start to lose eating quality. It helps them know when to take foods off the shelves of stores.

    These dates are NOT indicators of food safety.

    Best by/ Best if used by dates: Tell when a product will be best flavor or quality. These are not a purchase-by date.

    Sell by dates: Tell the store how long to display the food.

    Use by dates: Last date to use the food while at peak quality. These requirements are different for baby formula.

    Freeze by dates: Last date to freeze food to maintain the best quality. 


    Tuesday, May 26, 2020

    Cuts to try

    I've been sharing posts on Facebook with new cuts to try and I wanted to put them all in one place to make them easier to find.

    Wednesday, May 6, 2020

    Clean and Safe during COVID-19

    Some folks are very worried about taking trips to the grocery store. 

    Please know that the USDA does not know of any cases of  COVID-19 being spread through food or food packaging, but the virus may be found on lots of surfaces. So, some extra precautions after you visit the grocery store may help keep your family safe.

    WASH YOUR HANDS - Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water is one of the best ways to keep yourself safe from all germs you may encounter. Its especially smart to wash up when you get home every day, before you cook, after you handle raw meat, and before you eat.

    Disinfect your phone. Your phone goes everywhere you do. Some experts suggest leaving your phone in the car when you go in public places, but that's hard. Its smart to disinfect your phone at least once a day.

    Wipe off some groceries. When you get home, you may choose to wipe off boxes, cans, bags, and unopened, vacuum-packed meats like hotdogs or deli meats. Germs may be transferred from person to person on lots of different surfaces, so this step can help keep the virus out of your home.

    Do wipe off fresh meat packages. Soap or disinfectants like bleach or ammonia may be transferred through the packaging and contaminate the meat. You don't want to consume those.

    Do not wash your meat. Washing fresh meat in the sink can splash germs all over your kitchen. 

    Do not worry about bacteria and viruses on fresh meat. When you cook meat to a safe temperature, any bacteria or viruses will be killed.

    Friday, April 24, 2020

    The Meat Industry in the midst of COVID-19

    This is a scary time. Our entire society is fighting an enemy we can't see and have never fought before. 

    Everyone is worried and stressed.

    There have been news reports this week about the virus spreading in meat packing plants and those plants shutting down or significantly slowing production.

    What does that mean for our food supply?

    First, we are not going to run out of food. Yes, a slow down in production may affect the variety of protein available in some parts of our country, but we are not going to run out. We may have to get more creative or open minded about what we cook and serve our families. We may have to try new things or not have our favorite cuts for a little while. 
    But, this too shall pass. We will not run out of food.

    Packing plants

    Workers in packing plants work in very close quarters. They have to stand near each other. Social distancing is not possible. There are lots of shared spaces like break rooms, changing rooms, and work areas. It’s not surprising that the virus spread in the plants because people are so close to each other.

    That doesn't mean that COVID-19 is being passed on to consumers. The USDA does not have any reports of people becoming infected with COVID-19 from food or food packaging. This virus mainly spreads from person to person and is a respiratory virus meaning that you become infected when it enters your nose, eyes, or mouth. Viruses do not grow in food and when foods are cooked, viruses are killed. Follow the four steps of food safety to keep your family safe from all illness; wash your hands, be sure to cook your food to safe temperatures, keep cooked foods away from uncooked foods, and be sure to chill your leftovers in a timely manner.

    Companies are doing what they can to keep their doors open and keep their people safe. Many are taking temperatures of employees, testing employees for the disease, and when people are infected, they stay home from work.  There is lots of extra cleaning and sanitation. Workers are wearing masks (most already wear gloves and wash their hands frequently). Some companies are providing partitions to keep people apart from each other.

    These plants are in the middle of the food chain, so shutting down can have devastating consequences up and down the food supply.


    This disease has been dreadful for farmers. Some dairy farmers are dumping milk and egg farmers breaking eggs. We’ve heard about potatoes and other produce going to waste because no one can come pick it. Farmers all over this country have millions of animals ready to go to harvest in our food supply. Packing plants not purchasing them is a devastating condition for those farmers. The supply chain for beef animals goes back over two years to when the cow was bred. Pork and poultry are not quite as long, but still several months.

    Grocery stores

    People are buying more food in grocery stores than we’ve ever seen. Those stores have to have employees there to keep the food on the shelves. Then there are the truck drivers and supply chain workers that are also still hard at work in this mess. Those folks are putting themselves at risk every day because they have to be interact with people. They wear masks and try to social distance, but it must be so stressful.

    In the US, we have the safest, least expensive food supply in the world. But that takes millions of people working every day. I love to think about the scope of our industry. That industry that feeds 300 million people.

    Please continue to ask me about the meat industry. Hit me up with questions about new cuts that you are trying or new ways of cooking. Let me know about your successes and failures. Send me concerns about food safety. I’m happy to answer any question you may have.

    Friday, March 20, 2020

    Lab grown meat is not Impossible

    Meat alternatives have been in the news a lot lately. A certain Royal burger chain has recently launched a burger that was once considered Impossible, and I can’t open my inbox or walk through a crowd at a conference without hearing something about lab-grown meat. So, it’s about time that I write something about it.

    First. Is it Impossible?
    We are really talking about two completely different products here.
           1.      Plant based meats – Products made to taste and feel like meat, but made from plants.
           2.      Lab-grown meats – Meat grown in a petri dish from cells and media. Not from plants, but not really from animals either.
    One is out in the market, the other is still in the development stages.

    Plant based meats
    Some plant-based meats I found at a grocery
    store in Texas.
    The science behind the Impossible burger is actually pretty cool. They looked at meat and asked themselves, “What makes meat so tasty?” They felt like the answer was heme, a source of iron found in muscle and blood. Heme can also be found in soy and some other plants. So they isolated the heme producing DNA out of the soy plants and inserted it into yeast. Now the yeast can grow the heme through fermentation. They combine that with soy and potato proteins, coconut and sunflower oils, salt and some other ingredients. From there, they make burgers or sausage or whatever they want. If you look at the nutrition information (calories, fat, etc…) of the Impossible burger, you’ll see that it’s pretty similar to a beef burger.
    There is another plant-based meat product called Beyond Meat that uses peas, mung beans, fava beans, and brown rice as their protein sources. They also use coconut and sunflower oils as well as cocoa butter and canola oil. Coconut oil is more saturated than other oils and likely gives these products a mouthfeel that is more similar to meats. Beyond Meat prides itself on not using GMOs and instead using beet juice extract, apple extract, and other ‘natural flavors’ to produce the meaty flavor. From what I can tell, the nutrition information on this one is also similar to a beef patty.

    Lab grown meats
    Meat products made from cells grown in a lab are being developed by over 40 different start-up companies. The most popular and well-funded of those is probably Memphis Meats, out of Berkley, CA. Others include Blue Nalu, Future Meat Technology, Finless Foods, Wild Type, and Aleph Farms.
    I’m sure all these companies have their own spin on the process, but in a very basic way, they are using cells isolated from animals, either satellite cells or embryonic stem cells to grow more cells in a lab rather than growing them in an animal.
    The cells are grown in what’s called a Bio reactor. Rather than feed and water, the cells need media, which is a combination of salts, sugars, and amino acids. Just like feeds change as animals grow, the needs of the cells change as they grow and differentiate. The scientists control the growth of the cells with hormones and provide them with scaffolding, which is a structure for them to grow on.
    This technology is quite expensive. The first cell-based hamburger that was prepared in 2013 cost approximately $278,000, but today that cost is down to about $100. A company called Eat Just, Inc. has chicken nuggets that only costs $50 a piece.
    A few of these companies are moving from lab-scale up to pilot plants, but the most ambitious timeline has products available for consumers no earlier than 2022. Most are after 2025.
    Certain cell-based products will be easier to develop than others. Comminuted products like ground beef, hot dogs and chicken nuggets will be quicker to develop than those that are trying to produce whole-muscle cuts like a steak, a chicken breast, or a pork chop. The correct texture of a marbled steak will take a little longer to develop than a ground beef burger.
    Another hurdle for these products will be regulations. In the US, meat products are regulated by USDA and call-based and plant products are regulated by FDA. The two agencies have agreed to work together to develop food safety regulations and labeling standards for cell-based meats.
    One big question is what will it be called? The USDA has standards of identity for labels like ground beef, ham, and chicken nuggets. Currently, it is not clear if beef grown in a lab outside of a cow meets those standards. (I don’t think so, but no one has asked me.) Regardless, cell-based meat or lab-grown meat doesn’t have a very good ring to it.
    So, lab-grown meats are still a long way from our dinner plates. As a rancher, a meat scientist, and as a mom, I’m not really worried about feeding them to my family any time soon.

    Wednesday, May 30, 2018

    Every Steak has a Story

    May is National Beef Month. I don’t know who decides these months or why, but I’m glad we have a whole month devoted to a protein that I love to eat and raise. I have been mulling on the idea for this post for a while and figured May would be a great time to put my thoughts on paper, or technically, computer screen.

    I love to do farm tours. We take a group of ladies on our annual Moms on the Farm Tour here in Northwest Arkansas, but we also do tours with students and other groups. A few years ago, I had some friends from Dallas come to town and ask me for something fun to do with their kids and I said, “Want to go see a dairy?” And we did. We toured a local dairy and had a great time!

    On these tours, everyone loves to hear the farm story; how long the farm has been in operation, how many generations of this family have operated the farm, what crops have been raised there over the years. We love to see those farm stories in the grocery store, too. Several food companies do a great job of sharing the stories of their farmers with their consumers. People love to go to the farmers market or see ‘locally grown’ on the food they buy. I think it’s great that so many consumers want to know about their food and the farmers that produce it.

    But, here is what I think people are missing… every steak has a story.

    There are about ¾ of a million beef farms and ranches in the US, and over 91% are family owned or individually operated. The average size of a cow herd is 40 cows.

    That means that most of the beef bought in the US came from a farmer with a story, just like the one you would hear from our ranch. The calves from our ranch aren’t sold at the farmers market or to a special store with our name on it. They go from our place to a backgrounder (like the Peterson Farm Brothers) or a feedlot operation (like the Feedyard Foodie). I’ve written a post about the segments of the beef industry. Then they will be harvested in a commercial facility and processed into beef that may go to a fancy restaurant or a small grocery store.

    Cows on snow on the plains, on green grass here in
    Northwest Arkansas, or in the arid mountains in New Mexico.
    They all raise beef.
    When you buy a steak at the store or order one in a restaurant, it could have come from a farm in Florida or a ranch in Montana. We visited a farm in Hawaii where the cows ate Noni fruit and lived within view of the Pacific Ocean. That’s the great thing about beef. Cows can live in very diverse climates and under lots of different conditions, but they all produce beef.

    If you are interested in hearing more stories about farmers who raise beef and others in the beef industry, check out these blogs:

    Wednesday, May 16, 2018

    Myths about Super Chicken

    Lately, I’ve been seeing some stories about how unnaturally large and overgrown chickens are. People see how much bigger chickens are today compared to 50 years ago, and they question what farmers and poultry companies are doing to get them that way. So, I thought I would write a post addressing some of the myths about Super Chicken.

    MYTH: Chickens are given steroids and/or hormones to make them so big.
    First, it has been against Federal Regulations to give chickens steroids or hormones since the 1950’s. You may remember that from my previous post about food labels. In addition to being unlawful, steroid hormones don’t work well through feed or water, so farmers would have to inject the birds to get the effects of the hormones. Most chicken farmers have 50,000 birds or more. It would take a long time to give that many shots.

    Poultry scientists have studied bird nutrition for many years and learned the optimal diet for raising chickens quickly and efficiently. The diets are balanced with the exact about of carbs, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals the chickens need at their specific phase of growth. The birds have access to feed at all times, and all this attention paid to their dietary needs helps them grow fast.

    MYTH: Chickens are loaded up on antibiotics to make them grow.
    Most large poultry farmers raise their birds with minimal to no antibiotics in the feed and water. They have learned to control disease with sanitation and proactive feed ingredients like probiotics and essential oils. If a farmer needs give their birds antibiotics when they are sick or to help keep them from getting sick, they work with a veterinarian to determine the best medicine for their flock. Farmers predominantly use types of antibiotics that are not used in human medicine to treat sickness.
    It is important to remember that, regardless of whether or not antibiotics were used in raising your chicken, there are no antibiotics in your chicken meat. All animals must go through a withdrawal time after they are given antibiotics, allowing their bodies time to metabolize the medicine and clear it from their system.

    MYTH: Chickens are genetically engineered to be big and have large breasts. 
    Chickens are not genetically modified or GMOs. Traditionally, farmers kept the biggest and the best hens (momma chickens) and mated them with the biggest and the best roosters (daddy chickens) and produced bigger and better chicks. Today in the poultry industry, those best-on-best mating decisions are made by scientists with pages of data about the birds. They can select new generations of chickens and emphasize any number of traits from growth and breast size to health and bone strength. Couple that with the fact that a farmer can produce a new generation of chicken in a much shorter time than a cow or a pig, and changes in the chicken industry have happened very quickly.

    MYTH: Chickens are raised in cages to make them grow.
    The inside of a chicken house.
    Birds raised for chicken meat are kept in large open houses and allowed to roam freely. To protect the birds’ health, the houses are closed and protected from the outside environment, but the birds have lots of room to wander wherever they wish. They are kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer. There is food and water available all throughout the house. When you visit a chicken house, the birds are quiet and happy.

    Do you have more questions about chicken myths?

    There is more great info on the website, Chicken Check In. Or you can follow chicken farmers on social media.
    I don’t have many chicken posts, but you can check out my post from the Moms at the Poultry Counter on white striping in chicken, or see my hormone or antibiotic posts. I also have one recipe post with chicken, Grannie Annie’s Pozole.
    As always, please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does.