How to Know You’re Buying Quality Meat: 3 Things to Look for on a Meat Food Label

Think about the last time you bought meat from the grocery store. There’s a lot of choices, right?! And SO MANY LABELS. What do they all mean??

As a registered dietitian, I often have to bite my tongue when I’m at the store and see someone struggling with a food label or package, trying to decipher what it all means. But sometimes, I can’t help myself and have to offer some unsolicited advice.

Like a couple weeks ago, I was at Costco in the deli section. I needed to grab some cheese and a package of Teton Waters Ranch Thuringer Sausage. But right before I turned around to head back to the front of the store and check out, I noticed the lady beside me.

She had two packages of sausages in her hand, and looked completely confused. I could tell she was trying to figure out which one to buy. And who can blame her? There are so many labels slapped on different food products these days, and I often forget not everyone knows what they mean. Us dietitians live in our own little nutrition-nerd world sometimes.

So, anyways… back to my story… How did I know she was confused? Well, the “What the heck does uncured mean?” that she muttered under her breath kind of clued me in.

So, I just quietly told her that I was a dietitian and would be happy to help answer any questions she had if she’d like. Fortunately, she happily accepted my offer, rather than telling me to go away.

We went through the label of the two different choices she had in her hand and I answered her questions. And I also pointed out which product I thought tasted better, since I’d tried both of them… because let’s be real… taste matters too! Both products she had were sausages, one was Teton Waters Ranch, and another was a competitor. And I figured if she has trouble deciphering some labels, or just simply not knowing what they mean, other people might too.

So here are 3 things to look for on a processed meat (sausage, bacon, deli meat, etc.) food label…

  1. Grass-fed

Now, keep in mind, grass-fed goes far beyond processed meat. It can apply to any form of beef. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) defines “grass-fed” as…

“… animals be fed only grass and forage, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning.  Animals certified under this program cannot be fed grain or grain by-products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.” Source

The diet a cow eats directly impacts the nutrients and fat found in the meat it produces. Grass fed beef typically has:

  • Less overall fat
  • Higher percentage of the total fat in the meat is anti-inflammatory fats
  • Greater amounts of conjugated linoleic acid, which may reduce your risk for heart disease and cancer
  • More antioxidants

Source

  1. Certified Humane

If you see “Certified Humane” on any meat label, you can rest assured that that meat producer has met the standards set forth by Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC). HFAC exists to ensure the ethical and humane treatment of farm animals from the time they are born, to the time they are slaughtered. Specific to beef:

 

  • Cattle must never be kept in “cages, crates, or tie stalls.” They must be allowed to live and graze as they would naturally.
  • Cows must be fed a quality diet without antibiotics, growth hormones, or animal by-products.
  • Cattle owners must also comply with other environmental and safety regulations.

For more information on the Certified Humane label, click here.

  1. Uncured/ Unprocessed

To know what “uncured” means, we first have to know what curing is. If a meat is “cured” it means it has been preserved or prepared with salt and a compound called sodium nitrites. Some studies have shown an increased risk for cancer and other diseases when a person consumes a diet high in sodium nitrites, and the AICR (American Institute for Cancer Research) recommends avoiding them all together.  If a meat is uncured, like uncured sausage or bacon, it means it was preserved using a natural source, like celery. Uncured meat cooks and tastes similar to traditional sausage and bacon, but does have a shorter shelf life… so make sure to stick to those “use by” or “freeze by” dates.

And now that you have all the details on the three most important phrases/labels on a meat product, make sure to keep an eye out for them at the grocery store. And remember, Teton Waters Ranch is one of the only beef producers with all three claims.