Poop Patty… Is there fecal material in your hamburger?

Last week media headlines indicated there is poop or fecal material in hamburger meant for human consumption. Yikes, that is a scary thought… Thankfully, it is untrue. This post will explain why these headlines are full of half-truths, and steps you can take to ensure you are practicing safe hamburger cooking.

Ground beef headlines
A variety of headlines via popular media last week…

About 50% of the red meat we eat is in the form of hamburger (aka ground beef), it is versatile, convenient, and usually the price is right. It is always important to use good sanitation when preparing food and to cook meat to the proper internal temperature (Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart).

Before meat or hamburger is demonized, it should be noted that ALL foods (plant and animal based) have the potential to make you sick. Did you know the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is responsible for tracking food recalls, withdrawals, and safety alerts? And they make that list available to us? You can read the 2015 list here. The thing I want to most point out: all foods, regardless of how they were grown/raised (organic, conventional, small farm, large farm, etc.) are on the list. These recalls do not necessarily happen because of a possible foodborne pathogen problems, it is often because a product is mislabeled, does not indicate it contains a possible allergenic ingredient, or has a distribution problem.

The original report by Consumer Reports can be read here. As is the case with sensational headlines, bits and pieces of the article were cherry picked and the good information did not make headlines…

Consumer Reports said: “All 458 pounds of beef we examined contained bacteria that signified fecal contamination (enterococcus and/or nontoxin-producing E. coli), which can cause blood or urinary tract infections. Almost 20 percent contained C. perfringens, a bacteria that causes almost 1 million cases of food poisoning annually. Ten percent of the samples had a strain of S. aureus bacteria that can produce a toxin that can make you sick. That toxin can’t be destroyed—even with proper cooking.”

Eric Mittenthal, with the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) says “many in the media have focused on one claim from the study that has led to several very misleading and inaccurate stories—the idea that there is poop or fecal matter in your meat. Certainly this makes for eye grabbing headlines, but Consumer Reports did not find fecal matter in meat. In fact, nowhere in its report does it mention the words “fecal matter” or “poop.” What it found were bacteria, namely generic E.coli and Enterococcus, that are sometimes classified as signal organisms for fecal contamination, but different than fecal matter. The majority of this was Enterococcus which microbiologists now say are not good indicators of fecal contamination. What Consumer Reports found were bacteria that are commonly found in the environment, so it is no surprise to find them in beef, blueberries, anywhere else in a grocery store, or on your computer keyboard or phone. That doesn’t mean there’s poop on your phone, just that bacteria that once originated in a gastrointestinal tract is there. Simply put, they are different. For media to claim otherwise is simply inaccurate and misleading.”

It is important to note that the bacteria found are not commonly associated with foodborne illnesses from eating undercooked meat. It takes time for the toxins to form. These bacteria are more commonly associated with cooked food left out too long at the wrong temperature says Daren Williams, Executive Director of Communications, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

Additionally, Dr. Gary Acuff, Texas A&M microbiologist and director of the University’s Center for Food Safety, confirmed that the presence of bacteria do not indicate fecal contamination. “A “fecal indicator” bacteria does not mean feces is present. It means that bacteria originally associated with a gastrointestinal tract are present, and that might indicate the possible presence of a pathogen like Salmonella or Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC). We use generic E. coli to give us a heads-up that something might be wrong with sanitation or our process, not to indicate the actual presence of feces. Read the entire NAMI response here.

Mandy Carr-Johnson, Ph.D., senior executive director, Science and Product Solutions, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), says “The good news is the bacteria found in the Consumer Reports tests are not the type of bacteria commonly associated with foodborne illness in ground beef.” Carr continues to say, “As an industry, our number one priority is producing the safest beef possible. Ground beef is the safest it has ever been with greater than 90 percent reductions in bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7 and significant reductions in salmonella in recent years. The beef community continues to invest millions of dollars in developing new safety technologies with the goal of eliminating foodborne illness.”

The Consumer Report says “Between 2003 and 2012, there were almost 80 outbreaks of E. coli O157 due to tainted beef, sickening 1,144 people, putting 316 in the hospital, and killing five. Ground beef was the source of the majority of those outbreaks. And incidences of food poisoning are vastly under-reported. For every case of E. coli O157 that we hear about, we estimate that another 26 cases actually occur.”

So let’s pencil this out… That is 10 years of time (counting 2003 and 2012), 8 cases of E. coli O157 tainted beef per year, sickening 114 people per year, putting 32 in the hospital annually, and killing 1/2 person a year. While I am not trying to downplay the seriousness of the effects of food-borne pathogens E. coli O157 in this case), these numbers on an annual basis may seem more reasonable. Or think about the fact you have a bigger risk of being in a car accident, get hit crossing the street, or struck by lightning than you do from eating E. coli O157 tainted beef! This statement mentions that not all cases may be reported, this may be due in part to people not knowing what made them sick, people’s acidic stomachs killing possible pathogens, or not enough people getting sick from a common source to make it a case. Persons who are very young or old, pregnant, or who have immunocompromised systems would be most at risk with foodborne pathogens. Fun fact: packing plants regularly swab carcasses for pathogens, to ensure optimal food safety.

The Consumer Report says: “It’s not surprising to find bacteria on favorite foods such as chicken, turkey, and pork. But we usually choose to consume those meats well-cooked, which makes them safer to eat. Americans, however, often prefer their beef on the rare side. Undercooking steaks may increase your risk of food poisoning, but ground beef is more problematic. Bacteria can get on the meat during slaughter or processing. In whole cuts such as steak or roasts, the bacteria tend to stay on the surface, so when you cook them, the outside is likely to get hot enough to kill any bugs. But when beef is ground up, the bacteria get mixed throughout, contaminating all of the meat—including what’s in the middle of your hamburger. Also contributing to ground beef’s bacteria level: The meat and fat trimmings often come from multiple animals, so meat from a single contaminated cow can end up in many packages of ground beef. Ground beef (like other ground meats) can also go through several grinding steps at processing plants and in stores, providing more opportunities for cross-contamination to occur.”

This statement is partially true, on a whole cut of meat (i.e. steak, chop, roast) potential pathogens would only be on the surface of the meat and should be killed during the cooking process. However, when a ground meat product is made, the meat may be handled several times, come from several animals, and in general just have more places in the trimming/grinding process where contamination can occur. This is no different than a glass of orange juice containing juice from several oranges, a glass of milk containing milk from several cows, or a bag of rice containing rice from several fields.

Featured Image -- 1575Consumer Reports says: ” And then there’s the way home cooks handle raw ground beef: kneading it with bare hands to form burger patties or a meatloaf. Unless you’re scrupulous about washing your hands thoroughly afterward, bacteria can remain and contaminate everything you touch—from the surfaces in your kitchen to other foods you are preparing.”

This is a true statement. I often hear people blame the animal farmer, the meat packer, the retailer, or the restaurant if they get ill, however, the consumer (you and me) can be the ones to blame. It is very important to practice good sanitation and food safety at home. Here is a good read on common food safety myths.

This was Consumer Reports methodology: “… Consumer Reports decided to test for the prevalence and types of bacteria in ground beef. We purchased 300 packages—a total of 458 pounds (the equivalent of 1,832 quarter-pounders)—from 103 grocery, big-box, and natural food stores in 26 cities across the country. We bought all types of ground beef: conventional—the most common type of beef sold, in which cattle are typically fattened up with grain and soy in feedlots and fed antibiotics and other drugs to promote growth and prevent disease—as well as beef that was raised in more sustainable ways, which have important implications for food safety and animal welfare. At a minimum, sustainably produced beef was raised without antibiotics. Even better are organic and grass-fed methods. Organic cattle are not given antibiotics or other drugs, and they are fed organic feed. Grass-fed cattle usually don’t get antibiotics, and they spend their lives on pasture, not feedlots.”

Bias alert… While I am glad they bought beef raised in various ways, implying that organic and grass-fed cattle are safer or more sustainable is a biased statement. It is unfair to report that one beef raising system is more sustainable than another. “All beef production models can be sustainable,” says Dr. Kim Stackhouse, executive director of sustainability for NCBA. “Beef sustainability is defined as producing more product with fewer inputs, which is the goal of every beef producer in this country. To cattle farmers and ranchers, sustainability means balancing environmental responsibility, economic opportunity, and social diligence while meeting the growing global demand for beef.”

Also, the statement grass-fed cattle usually don’t get antibiotics is just an assumption. There is not a governing body to monitor the grass-fed meat market like there is for the organic market. It cannot be simply assumed that just because the meat came from a grass-fed system that it has not received antibiotics. This is a major flaw in the Consumer Reports methodology. I did a series on meat labels and what they mean, to read more about grass-fed, grain-fed, organic, natural, etc. go here.

BeefSustainabilityInfographic (2)

Consumer Reports also indicated “One of the most significant findings of our research is that beef from conventionally raised cows was more likely to have bacteria overall, as well as bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, than beef from sustainably raised cows. We found a type of antibiotic-resistant S. aureus bacteria called MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), which kills about 11,000 people in the U.S. every year, on three conventional samples (and none on sustainable samples). And 18 percent of conventional beef samples were contaminated with superbugs—the dangerous bacteria that are resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics—compared with just 9 percent of beef from samples that were sustainably produced. “We know that sustainable methods are better for the environment and more humane to animals. But our tests also show that these methods can produce ground beef that poses fewer public health risks.”

“Our concern is that leading consumers to believe organic and grass-fed beef are safer could make them think they do not need to cook those products to 160 ºF, creating a food safety concern,” says Dr. Mindy Brashears, professor, food microbiology and food safety, Texas Tech University. “It is important to note that bacteria was also found in the organic and grass-fed samples. The bottom-line is that no matter what the label says ground beef should be cooked to 160 ºF as a final step to ensure safety. Both S. aureus and C. perfringens found in the Consumer Reports study are toxin-producing bacteria that are typically associated with picnic-type food poisoning cases where food has been left out for long periods of time at the incorrect temperature, not undercooked ground beef,” says Brashears.

The good news, says Dr. Mandy Carr-Johnson is the Consumer Reports study did not find pathogenic bacteria like shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STECs) in any of the samples, including conventional beef. Controlling pathogenic bacteria is the key in terms of ensuring safety. Unfortunately, the Consumer Reports study confuses that issue with the finding of generic E. coli and other bacteria that are not commonly associated with illnesses from consuming undercooked ground beef. Read the entire article from Facts About Beef here.

These headlines undoubtedly have provoked fear and concerns amoungst thousands of beef eating consumers. However, you can continue to consume and enjoy ground beef. Here are some great resources on ground beef safety and preparation:
10 Tips for Safely Preparing and Handling Raw Beef
Ground Beef and Food Safety

When in doubt, cook ground meat products to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and thoroughly wash your hands, cooking tools, and surfaces. If you are dining out, ask for your burger to be cooked to a degree of doneness of medium-well. If you are served an undercooked burger, do not be afraid to send it back to be cooked more. Eating beef should not be a scary experience, it should be an enjoyable and flavorful experience!

Burger - final
Ground beef is so versatile and delicious…

The headlines about poop in your ground beef was meant to draw attention and sensationalize this story, however, it is full of half-truths and incorrect information. When stories like these hit the newsstands and media waves, it is important to read and understand them, to question what they are saying, and to engage the people who work in these industries and who know the facts that can be backed up with science and research.


Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

10 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

My colleague, Kayla Colgrove, shares how easy it can be to eat healthy on a budget, as well as tricks to make eating healthy easier. I like meal planning and preparing stuff for lunches on the weekends too. Which of these tips do you like?

10 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget.


Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Homemade Taco Seasoning

spice container-finalTaco seasoning is a staple in our house… tacos, burritos, taco salads, nachos, soups, casseroles, etc. In the past I have purchased a large container of it. However, when I recently used up what I had, I decided to look up recipes to make my own. I knew it would be easy enough, and that the ingredients would not contain any preservatives or fillers.

spice label-final

I am a bit a spice and meat rub lover/connoisseur (if one can be of such things), so I had everything on hand for the do-it-yourself taco seasoning.

Taco Seasoning

1 Tbsp. chili powder

1 Tbsp. Southwest chili powder (if you do not have this, use 2 Tbsp. regular chili powder)

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp. dried ground oregano

1 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika (can be omitted or substituted for regular paprika)

3 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. seasoned salt (can be omitted for less sodium option)

2 tsp. black pepper

Mix together. Store in air tight container. Makes approximately 6 Tbsp. of taco seasoning. ** You can adjust amounts for spiciness too, we like things a little spicy in our household.

It looks so pretty…
mixed spices-final
Mix your spices together, and you have homemade taco seasoning.

What other spice mixes do you like to make? Do you make your own meat rubs?


Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Just How Safe Is Your Organic Food?

Is organic food safer, healthier, or more nutritious than conventionally produced food? Research indicates there are no significant differences. Rhonda at Iowa Meets Maui does a very nice job of discussing this issue.

Global meat consumption increases by 3%, decreases by 1% in the U.S.

One of the daily publications I subscribe to is MeatingPlace. If you are interested in getting daily updates on meat industry happenings, then this publication is for you. Recently MeatingPlace reported about meat consumption trends, as released by Euromonitor International: Encouraging results for the fresh meat industry.

Euromonitor International reported the following meat market research:

– A 3% increase in the global meat market from 2014 to 2015, growing to reach 225 million tones.

Anastasia Alieva, Head of Fresh Food Research, attributes this growth to increased prosperity and rising populations. She indicates since 2009, India’s annual disposable income has increased by 95% and meat consumption increased by nearly 50% during the same time period.

– Poultry is the most popular meat in the world, increasing by 4% in volume to reach 85 billion tones in 2014.

– India, where 1/3 of the population is vegetarian, emerged as the top growing meat market in the world in 2014.

– In China, demand for beef and veal increased by 5%, where demand for pork increased by 3% in 2014. Again this is attributed to an increase in per capita disposable income.

– Meat demand decreased in some developed markets.

– Greece experienced the most severe decline of meat consumption in 2014, followed by Germany and the Netherlands.

– Meat consumption in the U.S. decreased by 1% in 2014. This is attributed to health concerns, ethical, sustainability, and religious issues that portray meat in a negative light. Additionally, more Westerners are trying vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian, flexitarian, or vegetable oriented diet.

– Lamb and goat consumption is increasing due to the rising interest of exotic and rare meats, as well as the popularity in Middle Eastern cuisine.

This research indicates that in developed countries, poultry has become certer of the plate for many consumers at the expense of red meat. Oppositely, in developing countries, consumers are seeking out higher priced, red meat in favor of pork or poultry.

meat map————————

Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

National Ag week… 5 reasons to thank a consumer

This is National Ag Week, with March 18 being Ag Day, a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture.

While I could spend the time today sharing with you how great I think agriculture is, and how much I adore the people who grow or raise agricultural products, I will not. Instead I want to celebrate the consumer – the user of the agricultural products.

Consumers are essential for agriculture. They buy agricultural products (i.e. meat, milk, fuel, pharmaceutical/medical supplies, fruits, vegetables, seeds, byproducts of the various ag enterprises, and more). While survival on this planet would be difficult (impossible) without agriculture, we are in this together – consumers and farmers/ranchers.

Some of the specific things I want to thank the consumers for:

1. Making food sexy and fun again. The “foodie” movement has allowed for persons to look at and taste food in a whole new light. People from all walks-of-life are enjoying trying new dishes, new flavor and texture combinations, and new venues (i.e. food trucks) for getting their food. As someone who loves food from all corners of the earth, I love that this is happening, and so do my taste buds.

food collage
A variety of foods that I got to eat in Austin, TX… Yum!

2. Showing interest in agriculture. There has been a lot of renewed interest in knowing how food is grown or raised. People want that connection with their food; and I think that is great. Farmers and ranchers know what they do is awesome, I mean not everyone gets to witness the miracle of an animal birth(s), look out over a crop that was grown by your own hands, or sit upon a horse who helps you get your daily work done. While consumers may not be able to do these things, they want a chance to experience them.

3. Questioning agriculture. You will probably hear farmers and ranchers say they do something because that is the way it has always been done. In agriculture there is so much risk involved, that farmers and ranchers are afraid to make drastic changes without knowing the outcome, or without having an incentive for their investment. Consumers are starting to question farmers and ranchers about why they do the things they do. While this has come with some growing pains from farmers and ranchers, ultimately it has helped identify areas where changes can and should be made. Things can and will be better as a result of it.

4. Establishing relationships with your local agriculturalists. I am seeing/hearing/reading about more and more relationships developing between consumers and farmers/ranchers. Consumers can put a face to their food. They are getting to meet the people who grow or raise their food, either where the food is sold, via a farm/ranch tour, or a field day on a farm/ranch. Farmers and ranchers are generally surprised that someone wants to see how they plant a crop, how they move livestock to another pasture, or how they harvest grain – but consumers want to see/read/listen about these things, and they want the farmer/rancher to explain it to them. Shared agricultural experiences, between a consumer and a farmer/rancher, are becoming more and more popular.

Bently Ranch
Shared learning about agriculture!

5. Increased transparency. Consumers want to know the ins-and-outs of how their food was grown or raised. Until recently, this was not something that many people really cared about, and farmers/ranchers being the private people they are, never shared that information… until now. More and more farmers/ranchers/ and agriculturalists are taking to social media to share the ag story. To share what they do on a daily basis, and to bring the farm or ranch to the masses who can’t go to the farm or ranch.

Growing and raising food is a hard job that is not for the faint of heart, but there is a renewed interest in food production. This is a great time to be an agriculturalist and a consumer!

Cows grazing on pasture int he Sierra Nevada Mountains.


Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Meal Planning: 10 Tips from a beginner’s perspective

A lot of things I have read recently about food waste have referenced that having a plan for food is a main component to reducing food waste. It is estimated that Americans are wasting about 40% of food grown for human consumption! Wow.

Collectively, we can all contribute to reducing food waste, decreasing methane emissions of rotting food in landfills, and leave more money in our pockets. Today I want to chat about meal planning. I have been a come-and-go meal planner over the years. But in 2015, one of my goals was to be better at it. I want to share some of the things I have found that work for me.

1. Start small. I do not plan each and everything thing we eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks 7 days a week. I just plan our evening meals, and usually just for five nights.

meal list2
Our menu for the next week.

2. Align your menu with your week. There are some weeks I have two to three night meetings, during those weeks a strict menu is not in the cards for me. If possible, I try to do the bulk of the cooking on the weekend prior to my week of meetings. It is a win-win in our house, I can take leftovers during the week and the Hubs has dinner on the nights I am gone.

3. Make a list. Have you ever gotten to the grocery store, just to realize you left your list at home? Ugh me too (I know what you are thinking, just make your list on your phone and then that is not a problem, I use my phone for a lot of things, but as my grocery list, it is just something I just have been able to do yet). For me the list is very important. I rely heavily on it for remembering what I need to get. I have also been that person that goes to the store with my mental list of four items, and I come home with $80 worth of stuff! Creating a list helps to just shop for what you need (reducing waste) and it keeps more money in your pocket by limiting impulse purchases. When I buy canned vegetables or dry goods I will also buy an extra here or there to keep a healthy supply in the pantry.

4. Don’t beat yourself up if the menu changes. I write down a list of things I plan to make during the week and decide the day before what we will be having, some people I know assign food items to each night. There is no right or wrong way to do it, do what works best for your family. Sometimes during the week something else comes up and I don’t get around to making something I had planned, we just move that item to the weekend (one of the reasons I usually just plan for five meals a week).

5. You don’t have to always cook. Some nights I come home and I just want to have a glass of wine and kick my feet up. Luckily no little people depend on us for food in those cases. On those nights I will just cut up cheese, fruit, vegetables, and gather some crackers. If we have french bread for dipping (sliced wheat bread just doesn’t do it for me), I will bust out some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This meal is perfect on the nights where you don’t want to cook, clean your kitchen, or even be in the kitchen.

6. Have fun with it. I like to cook and try new recipes, so I challenge myself to try one to two new recipes a week. Some of these new recipes have turned into family favorites for us. Even with this goal, we still get stuck in the rut of having some of the same things over and over, that is when I start increasing the amount of new recipes I try.

7. Don’t forget the staples. As I said before, I only plan for our dinner meals, however I know our eating patterns and shop for those. Breakfast items usually consist of things like oatmeal, yogurt, milk, string cheese, toast, smoothies, fruit, or any combination. Lunch is either leftovers or sandwiches (meat/cheese or PBJ). Plus I always make sure we keep stuff on hand for spaghetti, which is great for a quick and easy meal and one meal the Hubs has mastered. Additionally, I always purchase fruits and vegetables that are great in a main dish or by themselves as a healthy snack. In our house having these things always on hand makes food prep for all meals easy.

8. Embrace your leftovers. With just two people in our household leftovers are pretty common. But we love leftovers. They are great to take for lunch in the following days. Sometimes we also have a “leftover night” where we eat all of the random leftovers, think of those nights as a 5-course meal nights 🙂 If you are not a leftover person, I encourage you to work on cutting your recipes so that you are only making what you can eat in that one setting, thus reducing food waste.

9. Random ingredients left at the end of the week. Sometimes you may not get around to making something you had planned, or you bought more of an ingredient than you needed for your recipe. It seems that every week I use up these random ingredients by making soup, stew, chili, smoothies, or salads. All of these are handy for using up leftover fruits, vegetables, meat, broths, and other ingredients.

10. Involve your family. When I bust out 10 new recipes a week, I ask Hubs to choose a couple he would like me to try. This works out well because I have already picked the ones I want, but he also gets a voice in choosing the final menu for the week. It is a better shared experience for both of us.

meal list
A list of what we have had in the last month.

I have found that by planning out evening menus we are saving money when we go grocery shopping, we very rarely throw away any food, and we are having fun cooking and tasting new recipes.

Do you plan your meals? What other tips do you have?


Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

McDonalds and Costco Make Headlines ; Farmers and Processors Make Safe Food

Antibiotic free meat is the norm… learn more about media sensationalism and the process of drug residue testing from a butcher’s perspective.

NC Meat Mom

McDonalds and Costco made headlines last week when they announced a campaign to eliminate the sale of food products treated with antibiotics.  While many consumers rejoiced, others questioned the need for such a proclamation. Are farmers needlessly injecting their animals with antibiotics?  Is there antibiotic residue in the meat we eat?  How can consumers be assured their food is truly safe?  As a small meat processor, I have seen firsthand the USDA’s commitment to this issue.  Countless hours have been spent discussing preventative measures and receiving training to ensure that the food produced within my facility is safe for human consumption.

In order to be eligible for slaughter, animals must be able to walk off the trailer and pass an ante-mortem inspection…things that are not always easy when sick livestock are involved.  While the media would have consumers believe that antibiotics are unnecessarily pumped into healthy animals, the truth is…

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Butchers, are you talking to yours? 21 conversations you should be having (if you are not already)

Growing up around livestock and raising our own meat, it didn’t dawn on me until I was in college that not everyone has a good relationship with their butcher or meat processor. In Extension I get questions from individuals and even organizations (that have donated meat to a charity) about how to best process the meat for their family/clientele. It is fun for me to visit with people about how to have meat processed to fit their needs and wants.

Today I want to share with you some of my tips and suggestions when talking to your butcher or meat processor about meat for your family. **Note – This article will focus on things to ask your butcher or meat processor, and not focus on the retail level, as most meat is already packaged and ready for us. At a local University meat lab or meat locker you have many more decisions to make and more control over how you want the meat processed/packaged.     1. What do butchers do?  In some cases the butcher may be doing the actual harvesting (taking the animal’s life for the benefit of humans) of the animal themselves, sometimes they may get the meat in wholesale cuts in which they break into smaller retail cuts, or they may be doing both. Generally a University meat lab or a local meat locker will do the entire process themselves. Retailers will just get the wholesale meat from a packer and cut it into retail friendly cuts.

wholsale meat cuts
Examples of wholesale meat cuts…

2. Identify the needs of your family first. Do you like to grill out? Do you like a Sunday roast? Are you a family on the go that requires convenience? Do you want all of the above? You can have it! But knowing what your end goals are will help the butcher guide you through the process.

3. Family size. Every year at Christmas my parents give Hubs and I a lamb (butchered and cut). Since it is just two of us we have 4 chops per package and the legs cut in half. A larger family will need their meat packaged differently than our family of two. This is a common question asked by butchers.

lamb chops
Two steaks and four lambchops to a package is perfect for my family of two.

4. Thickness. I like my steaks and chops to be 1 inch thick. For me this is the ideal size as they are not so thin that they dry out on the grill, and they are not so thick that the inside does not reach your ideal degree of doneness (i.e. well, medium, rare, etc.), but the outside gets over cooked. Your butcher will cut these to any size you want. In Nebraska we have a Husker porkchop. It is at least 1.5 inches thick, and is smoked! It is amazing. If you want something like this, ask your butcher.

5. Aging. Letting meat age increases the tenderness and flavor. This may take 2-3 weeks for a beef carcass, but the wait is well worth the final product. There are two types of aging: dry (the carcass hangs in a temperature controlled room for a certain time period) or wet aging (usually a certain wholesale cut (i.e.loin, rib) is put in cryovac plastic bags and left to age, a.k.a. in the bag).

6. Lean to fat. If you have a ground product made you can specify how lean you want it. The lean to fat ratio is often shown as 80/20 – meaning the lean number is first and the second number is the fat. The leaner you make it, the less fat it will have in it. This may sound ideal, but it can become tricky as there will be less fat to flavor your meat and keep things moist while you are cooking. I usually get 85/15 or 90/10, and then remove any fat that I do not want. At this ratio my burgers even stay moist on the grill.

burgers on the grill
Juicy burgers on the grill.

7. Explore and experiment. You may not know that some cuts even exist, as they are not common in some retail markets. For example, shanks (the forearm) are excellent when cooked over slow, moist heat; tri-tip is a California favorite; Denver steak is a fairly new cut from the shoulder region; ox-tail for soups or stews; and the variety meats (will get to that in a minute). Ask your butcher about trying some new (to you) cuts of meat, or meats that they may process differently than you are accustomed to. Livestock farmers and ranchers help support research to develop new cuts of meat, to learn more check out the Beef Innovations Group here.

tongue tacos
Tongue (a.k.a. lengua) tacos.

8. Variety meats, a.k.a. Offal. These are the organ meats – liver, tongue, heart, kidneys, etc. And yes, they are perfectly safe and healthy for consumption, and they are delicious. Tongue is my personal favorite, as it can be made into a stew, pickled, pan fried for tacos, etc. (I need to do a post on tongue!). The butcher may or may not ask you about these, as most people do not want them. However, if you are a foodie and enjoy trying new things, I encourage you to take them. Also, in the past I have asked them to be thrown in the trim that will make up my ground product. I am not wasting them, and the vitamins and minerals are being used by my family (and no ones has to know but you :)). In all seriousness, variety meats are usually exported because we don’t consume them as much in America, however, I think you would like them if you tried them.

9. Packaging. Butchers vary on how they will package your meat. It may be in the white butcher paper or it may be in the transparent cryovac bags. While both methods are completely normal and acceptable, keep in mind that meat can go bad in the freezer, it is subject to freezer burn over time. When purchasing meat in a large quantity it is tempting to try some of the new stuff, but moving the older stuff to the front and using it up first will result in less food waste.

10. Get a variety of cuts. If you are like me you may love hamburgers, but you do not want to eat hamburgers everyday. I like to get a variety of meat cuts. I have found though that we generally have a lot of ham and roasts left, and we run out of the ground product first. Knowing our eating patterns helps me adjust my order next time so that there is a better balance of product.

11. How do you like your sausage? If you get a pig processed you will need to decide how you want your sausage made. First, you do not have to have it all made into sausage, you can have some just ground (which is great for stir-fry). Your butcher may offer you several different sausage flavors (mild, medium, spicy, maple, etc.). If you cannot choose or are worried the spicy may be too much for your family, see if you can purchase a small sample of sausage they have in their retail cabinet and take it home for a taste test. There is nothing worse than getting home and being disappointed in what you chose, after-all there is no refund on meat.

12. Smoking. People generally get the belly and hams smoked on a pig. You do not have to, you can leave them unsmoked! This is generally a good option for people who like to smoke their own food and enjoy the DIY. I do prefer to have them smoke my bacon, as I would hate to mess that up! Also, if you realize you may not eat a lot of whole hams, the butcher can cut those whole hams into ham steaks, which can be a better option if you are looking for smaller ham portions.

smoked meats
Smoked meat – YUM!

13. Other processed goods. Your butcher may give you the option to make some of your meat into meat sticks, bratwurst, jerky, chorizo, etc. This is a great option if you want flexibility or are a family on the go. More processed meats will mean less packages of other meat cuts. You will need to determine what is best for you.

Beef ribs going into the oven for dry heat cooking.

14. Identify your favorite cuts as non-negotiables. I love ribs, I always make sure I ask for the most ribs possible when I get meat processed. For me this is a non-negotiable item. If you are not a rib person, then you may want this meat cut off and want it as stew meat instead. Sometimes placing an order with the butcher can be overwhelming, by deciding what cuts you must have first then building the rest of your order around that will help make things easier.

15. Soup bones. As a carcass is processed and cut to meet your specifications, there may be some large bones that are left. These large bones are perfect for soup bones or as bones for your dog. Some butchers can also smoke these bones for you, adding a great smoky flavor to your favorite dish. And ask them to cut the bones into 1-3 inch segments for you. Throwing an entire femur bone into the soup pot is not an option, but throwing in 3-4 smaller bone pieces is a better option.

16. Tenderized. Do you love chicken fry steak/chicken/pork? You can have that! Often times your butcher will take a lean cut, like a ham or round roast and run them through a tenderizer to give you the perfect cut for a chicken fry experience. If this appeals to you, just ask!

17. Write it down. After going through the whole process of making the perfect meat order for you and your family, write down what you ordered and how much of everything you ordered. It may be a long period of time before you need more meat after making a big purchase, and in between those visits you will forget. But if you write down what you did last time, it gives you an idea of what to do next time or where to make adjustments, if needed.

18. What will it cost? If you bring an animal in to be harvested, you will be charged a fee. You may be charged a minimal daily fee for the time the carcass hangs. Depending on the butcher you will usually be charged a per pound fee for the processing. If you get anything smoked, made into sausage, or further processed (meat sticks, bratwurst, etc.), there is usually another fee. Be sure to have your butcher walk through these fees with you, as it may determine what you do and do not have done. In the past when I have had beef and pigs processed, the total price that I paid for the animal and for it to be processed averaged $3-$4 per pound of product I took home. This is usually much cheaper than if I would have bought it all at the retail level. To me that is reasonable as I got to totally customize my order and I knew where my meat was raised. It may seem like a big chuck of change, but if you average it over the months you consume the product it becomes very cost effective.

19. What if I don’t like something when I get home? While this has never happened to me, I have heard of people not liking the flavor of the cure used for smoked products or the seasoning in processed meats. Call the butcher and let them know. Chances are there was either a rare mistake made somewhere or your taste buds and the flavoring don’t jive. While the butcher’s hands may be tied on what they can do, they may be able to give you a credit on your next order, or they may even offer to exchange what you have for product out of their retail case. If you know you are sensitive to an ingredient or a flavoring, it is always a good idea to ask for a small sample you can take home before committing to a large batch of something. Butchers don’t make money with unhappy customers.


20. Can you watch? In college I worked at my University meat lab. People were always interested to see the process of the harvest and the meat processing. Since we were a University, they could watch at a safe distance wearing the appropriate attire. If this is something you have a desire to see/do, ask your butcher. The worst they can do is tell you no. Most of the time we were happy to have people watch as everything we did was done quickly and as humanely as possible. During processing we closely followed the cleanliness standards we had established. But this will depend on your butcher and what their policy is.

21. USDA inspection. All facilities that harvest, process, and sell meat must be federally or state inspected by the USDA. The USDA ensures that animals are harvested humanely and that the meat they produce is wholesome and safe for human consumption.

Butchers are great people to know. They can make meat recommendations, provide cooking tips, and may even have a sample of two for you to try when you stop to visit. They want to make you happy and ensure your meat processing process goes as smooth as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask 100 questions or to admit your a meat novice, they are there to help.

What other questions do you have about selecting or purchasing meat? Any other tips or suggestions that I missed?

You can even buy in bulk and slice and freeze your own meat!


Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)

– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)

– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)

– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

A Single Person’s Guide to the Grocery Store

Elise does a great job in her blog post discussing tips on shopping and cooking for one. In our household of two, we cook regular size meals and have leftovers for lunch. I often freeze leftovers too and enjoy the flexibility to pull them out of the freezer in portion sized servings when no one feels like cooking or time is short. The Hubs and I also started planning our meals the week before. We grocery shop for just those items, and it decreases the chance that food will spoil as we know we will use it within the next week.

The Kiwi Hoosier

My favorite food from the dining courts. I would be okay with someone buying me a Purdue waffle (Boiler)maker. My favorite food from the dining courts. I would be perfectly okay with someone finding me a Purdue waffle (Boiler)maker.

For nearly nine years, I’ve lived on my own. I’ve had various roommates in houses and apartments, and I’ve lived in the university residence halls, eating dining hall meals, microwavable dinners or fast food. However, for a year and a half, I lived with only my dog, Evie. (She eats most anything.) I found the food situation to be vastly different when I lived alone than when I lived with roommates.

During this year and a half, I lived in the country, and greatly enjoyed it. I worked in the city but didn’t want to have to stop at the grocery store every day because of bad planning. When I lived on the farm, we only went to the grocery store once or twice a month for all five of us. I liked that approach.

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