Cooperative effort to measure beef tenderness

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Farm Forum

USDA worked with academia and industry over the past several years to develop a system to determine beef tenderness, using an objective scale to ensure that cuts with the new label consistently meet consumer expectations.

USDA worked with academia and industry over the past several years to develop a system to determine beef tenderness, using an objective scale to ensure that cuts with the new label consistently meet consumer expectations.

Tenderness is one of the most significant factors affecting the overall consumer acceptance of beef cuts. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Beef Quality Grading program is a useful tool in predicting overall consumer acceptance of beef, other factors besides those assessed by the USDA Quality Grading System affect beef tenderness. In other words, beef that may not grade to the highest USDA Quality Grade (USDA Select or Choice vs. USDA Prime) may in fact be rated just as tender by consumers. Similarly, certain cuts of beef, no matter how high their USDA Quality Grade, may not be as tender for some consumers.

To address these issues and provide consumers with a more useful purchasing tool, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) worked with academia and industry to develop an accurate system to determine when consumers perceive beef cuts to be either tender or very tender. Based on an objective scale, the system ensures that specific beef cuts consistently meet these established thresholds. Thanks to the collaborative efforts between AMS and these groups, approved beef processors can now market products as USDA-Certified Tender or Very Tender through product labeling, advertisements, and promotions.

“USDA is pleased to offer this new verification program that provides American producers with another marketing tool to promote their quality products,” said AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo. “The tenderness label also gives consumers additional information to use when making their purchasing decisions.”

On June 30, 2013, Cargill became the first processor to have a program certified by USDA. There are two other programs under review – one other beef processor and a major grocery store chain.

“We know that beef attributes such as tenderness, flavor and juiciness are important to consumers and the long-term health of the American beef industry hinges on our ability to consistently deliver the best possible beef eating experience,” stated John Keating, president of Cargill.

Consumers should start to see beef cuts labeled as USDA Certified Tender or USDA Certified Very Tender as early as Fall 2013.