• Monday, December 7, 2015

    It’s all in the package: Ground Beef

    I'm not sure why I have this silly face.
    I love to take #meatcounterselfies!
    A few weeks ago, I made a quick stop in a local grocery store to pick up some stuff for office lunches. Of course, I had to swing by the meat counter for a #meatcounterselfie.

    While I was there, I found four different examples of packaging ground beef in the retail case. So, I snapped a few pictures and made a quick facebook post. My post was so popular, I decided to recreate here in the blog.

    Foam trays with over wrap.
    One of the most popular types of packaging
    Foam trays with over wrap. It's kinda like cling wrap. In the world of meat science, we call this aerobic packaging. It's aerobic because it allows oxygen to react with the protein and creates the bright red color consumers like to see.

    This packaging type is pretty inexpensive and easy, but the oxygen makes the meat spoil in a couple of days. You also shouldn't freeze meat packaged this way because it's more likely to freezer burn.

    Ground beef chubs
    We call these packages ground beef chubs. These are 10-pound packages, but you can get chubs in 5-pound, 2-pound, and even 1-pound. They are not always in clear bags like this. Sometimes the chubs are white and only tie at one end.

    This beef was packaged in the packing plant. That's good because it decreases the number of people that handled it and lowers the chances that it will spoil. They are essentially a vacuum package, which is why you see that purplish-red color. The vacuum isn't perfect. Sometimes a little air will get in on the ends.

    Beef can stay safely in this package for several days, and you can stick it directly in the freezer. My friend, Dr. Casey Owens, commented that she likes to buy ground beef in these big chubs and divide it into 1-pound portions in zip-loc freezer bags. That’s a great way to save some money.

    Modified atmosphere package
    This is called a modified-atmosphere package. This ground beef was also packaged in the packing plant, so the number of times it’s been handled is decreased compared to foam tray packaging. It's kind of like a vacuum package because it's sealed, but it has a special blend of air in the package to help control the growth of bacteria and give the meat that pretty red color.

    I wouldn't use this package to freeze the meat; I would re-package it in a zip-loc freezer bag or a home-vacuum packager.

    Vacuum-sealed package

    Last is a vacuum sealed package. This beef was packaged in the packing plant and is a completely sealed package. See how it's a purplish-red color?

    This package will have the longest shelf-life, and meat will freeze in that package just fine. It's also nice and flat, so it will thaw easily, too.

    The meat counter at this store had several different options of ground beef, and, as a meat head, it was exciting to me to see all these different ways to package it represented in one store. But, please know that all these packaging types are safe. Regardless of how the beef is packaged or processed or any claims made on the label, all ground beef should be cooked to 160 F and checked with a meat thermometer.

    I have another neat post called 10 things you didn’t know about ground beef or you may enjoy any of my other posts about beef, food safety, or the labels you see on packages.

    What questions do you have about things you see in the meat counter?


    1. Hi Janeal, I wanted to reblog this over at agriculturalwithdrlindsay.com, but cannot find the button to do so on blogger. Can you assist? I could always copy and paste it over too, and link back to you...

    2. I have a question about the contents of the aerobic-style packaged ground meats. When buying from a major grocery store chain, with a meat department. Is that meat ground on site from butchered cuts?

      I'm talking only about the standard store labeled, trayed, cellophaned packages.

      Somewhere I seen a claim that a lot of meat departments are basically getting quantities of ground chuck in 10+ lb chubs, and they are just regrinding and repackaging the meat into smaller portions with store labels. Is that legit? I might understand small chain groceries without meat departments doing something like this.

      Also, during my last trip to the grocery store, there was chuck roast on sale which I took and asked to be ground, and was told they couldn't do small amount like 5 lbs. The meat department manager told me that the 5 lb chub of branded 80/20 ground chuck was basically the same as my trimmed and lean looking hunks of roast. I found this to be a little confusing.

      Any info or opinion would be delightfully appreciated.

      1. These are great questions, but the answer isn't exactly straight forward. Some grocery stores grind beef in-house while others buy it pre-ground and just put it directly in the case. Even those in aerobic packaging may be ground somewhere else, shipped in anaerobic mother-bag packaging and set out in their aerobic packaging once they get to the store.

        Some meat departments grind beef in-house, too. Those are mostly bought as coarse ground chubs and reground in the store. Most ground beef is ground twice; once coarse ground and once fine. I think some stores grind some whole-muscle cuts into their ground beef, but I'm not sure about how much. Its really hard to ensure the lean to fat ratio when you do it that way.

        I can understand why the store wouldn't want to grind a small amount for you. Their grinder is probably made for large batches and you would lose a significant portion of your roast in the grinder.

        As far as it being exactly like the 80:20 ground chuck, I'm not sure. You are right that the roast you picked out was probably trimmed and would have probably been leaner. The cuts used in ground chuck are very similar to the chuck roasts you buy in the store. Americans love ground beef, so lots of our beef gets ground up, even if if would still make a tasty pot roast.

        I hope my answers were helpful. So glad you asked. I need to think about how to turn this question into a blog post. Thanks.

      2. Thanks so much for your reply! You have a very informative and in-depth blog, I'm really glad I stumbled onto it. I agree that there are many more exciting things to with beef than the few I manage to create. In this case I was wondering if I could achieve a processing of meat for a chili cook-off, into a sort of extremely coarse grind, to save some time turning my roasts into cubes.
        I look forward to reading through all of your past blog posts!