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February 7, 2014

What to read into nutrition labels on raw meat

Q: When you read a nutrition facts label for raw meat, is the fat content listed for raw or cooked weight? If it's the cooked weight, is the manufacturer assuming the meat is rare or well done?

A: Good questions! Let's unravel this starting with a few bites of background on meat and poultry nutrition labels. First, definitions. Meats, sometimes called red meats, includes beef, lamb, pork and veal and the less commonly eaten bison, emu, venison, etc. Poultry includes chicken, turkey and the less commonly eaten duck, hen, goose, etc.

In 1994, when the federal Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 went into effect, our packaged foods got a facelift with the now familiar nutrition facts label. But it wasn't until 2012 that providing a nutrition facts labels was mandatory for manufacturers of single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products.

The Food and Drug Administration does the heavy lifting on food and nutrition labeling, but jurisdiction for meat and poultry products is under the Department of Agriculture's charge. The FDA takes the reins back for foods that contain less than 2 percent cooked meat. Think pork and beans, spaghetti sauce with meat or gravy mixes.

So it was the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service that in 2012 took nutrition labeling of meat and poultry products from voluntary to mandatory. The intent of this new rule, according to the FSIS, was to give shoppers a clearer sense of the options available and to help them make more-informed decisions.

The 2012 rule mandated that packages of ground or chopped meat and poultry, such as hamburger or ground turkey, and the 40 most popular whole, raw cuts of meat and poultry, such as chicken breast or steak, feature the nutrition facts panel on the food's label or nearby on display in the market, says Joy Dubost, a registered dietitian in Washington and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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