Ground Beef Myth Busting with Meat Scientist David Hayden

With misinformation being spread recently questioning the safety and quality of beef products sold in the United States, Marination and Cured Meats Product Manager at JBT FoodTech David Hayden explains the facts, and why it is safe to buy beef at the grocery store and directly from a farmer and rancher.

Hayden first talks about misconceptions regarding the color of beef at the grocery store as it relates to quality.

“You see a lot of posts flying around social media trying to compare ground beef from the store to ground beef from your local farmer or rancher. The first thing I want to say is that ground beef is ground beef, whether it comes from the store or it comes directly from the farmer or rancher.” 

Hayden says there is a scientific explanation as to why beef bought directly from the farmer or rancher may be a different color than the beef at the grocery store.

“The product you are buying from your farmer or rancher is typically packaged in what we call a ‘chub.’ It is a plastic casing with a pound of ground beef and a clip on the end. That packaging is not oxygen permeable, versus the store package that has a nice film over the top.” 

The product at the grocery store will typically be a bright cherry red color, Hayden said, while the product from the farmer or rancher will be more of a purple color.

“The reason being is that package at the grocery store is an oxygen permeable package,” Hayden said. “It allows oxygen to free flow through the film that you see over the top of ground beef. It allows the oxygen to actually bind to the myoglobin protein in the product, allowing it to bloom into a nice, bright cherry red.” 

This means, that if you take ground beef in “chub” packaging and open it up, allowing it to sit and breathe for around ten to fifteen minutes, it will turn from that purple color to bright cherry red, just like the beef at the grocery store.

There is a lot of regulation around ground beef, Hayden says, and ground beef from the grocery store is not pumped full of additives and moisture.

“No ground beef sold on the market straight from the source from your farmer or rancher or from the grocery store can have anything other than ground beef in it. The USDA just will not allow it. That is part of the regulation around ground beef. In addition, ground beef can also not be less than 70 percent lean. The product that you are purchasing has to be at least 70 percent protein and no more than 30 percent fat.” 

Not every person has access to a farmer or a rancher that sells direct, Hayden said, so demonizing consumers who do not have that option is only going to create a greater divide between the end consumer and modern-day agrarian agriculturalist.