The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service is responsible for inspecting meat and poultry at processing plants to ensure the safety and wholesomeness of meat, poultry and processed egg products and that they are accurately labeled, explains Argyris Magoulas, a food safety specialist at the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline.

USDA inspectors must be present at federally inspected meat-processing plants. The inspectors verify that food safety and animal care standards are met and take strong enforcement actions to deal with plants that don’t meet regulatory standards.

Here in Iowa, some meat lockers are state-inspected by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. “However, if you are state inspected, it doesn’t mean that (the meat product) is inferior. Their standards are equivalent to the USDA’s,” Magoulas says.

While the “USDA inspected” seal is mandatory, meat grading is voluntary and is conducted by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Below is a new infographic from the USDA detailing the different grades (prime, choice, select) of beef and the best cooking methods for each.

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Learn more about author Teresa Bjork here.

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