Confused by meat labels? Here’s what you need to know

December 18, 2017

Imagine if automobile manufacturers touted in their advertisements today, “All our models are equipped with seatbelts!”

While that’s a true statement, for perspective it would be important to know federal law since 1968 requires seatbelts, so that’s not something unique to one manufacturer’s models. That would just be something the automaker decided to call out and feature in an ad.

Something similar happens with meat labels.

I walk by the meat case in the supermarket where I shop – there are numerous labels, including those that say no antibiotics added, organic, natural, etc., all of which can create confusion, as the Center for Food Integrity pointed out in a recent post, “Are there antibiotics in my meat? Let’s clear the confusion.”

Take antibiotics, for example. Antibiotic residues are molecules remaining in meat from animals treated with antibiotics, and multiple systems are in place to ensure meat is safe, beginning with the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA, as part of its review when approving antibiotics for use in animals, determines how long an antibiotic takes to leave an animal’s body. That’s known as the withdrawal period.

The withdrawal period specifies the number of days that must pass after the last antibiotic treatment before an animal can enter the food supply. For medications used in food-producing animals, withdrawal periods are listed on the label and must be strictly followed.

In addition to mandatory antibiotic withdrawal periods in animals, the Department of Agriculture and food companies routinely test meat during processing.

Besides labels about antibiotics, organic and natural, there are 17 other label topics identified by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (“Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms”), including basted, self-basted, kosher, fresh and frozen poultry, hormones, and oven prepared.

Here are a few other label resources I recommend if you’re interested in learning more about food labels and what they do (and don’t) mean: Best Food Facts’ “Decoding food labels,” and as it relates to chicken specifically, “5 confusing chicken labels (and what they actually mean)” from the National Chicken Council.

We’re blessed in the United States to have access to safe, affordable food. Soon we will be joining family and friends around holiday dinner tables. I wish you a safe and happy holiday season. And just for good measure, here are food safety tips if you’re the food preparer for your holiday gathering!

I welcome your thoughts and questions. Please feel free to send me an email at AskDrDorman@pahc.com or call me at 844-288-3623. You can also browse our Resource Library to learn more about this important topic.