I am sure most of us has seen the tubes of ground beef in meat display cases - 1 lb, 3 lb. 5 lb. even 10 lb. with varying "grind mix" labels of 73/27, 80/20, 85/15, 93/07, etc. What the heck are they? Is it monkey meat? Or garbage crap? That often comes to mind to those that don't know. But, I will explain!
I had the good fortune to go to Moyer Meat Processing Plant outside Pittsburgh to see all the meat operations performed, from standing cattle to finished cuts and ground meats. I was a meat manager and our director took us all (about 60 of us) on a field trip from Norwich, NY to Pa, Moyer Packing Plant. Before we could enter, anyone with a cold could not enter. Then, we were led to the sanitation room where we all had to remove our outer clothes and put on hospital like paper scrubs (disposable) from hats to masks to shoe booties, tops and pants. Then, we were led through the plant, witnessing the kill floor, skinning, halving, going through a nitrogen cooler to remove body heat quickly, quartering into fores and hinds, then processing. All controlled by moving belts carrying the various parts and products through the processing stages. All trim separated into pallet-sized bins. All the workers were dressed even more so. The plant stopped operations every 7 hours, requiring a complete tear-down and sanitation cycle with separate crews, 3 times a day. Bacteria was the no. 1 enemy! They maintained at least a 99.5% degree of total sanitation bacteria-free! Absolutely amazing!
No meat room had that degree of sanitation, by a long shot. Cross contamination was common, high production requirements forced employees to take shortcuts, and so on.
The primary purpose of this Article is to explain one of the end processes of meat processing, the grinding process. All trim is delivered in pallet-sized containers about 5 ft tall. They are then 'core-sampled', the cores put through a fat analyzer, then lean local beef is added to the mix to derive whatever grind mix is desired (see above). Then, by fork lift, the meat is dumped into a giant grinder as big as a house and ground once, then it flows into another grinder below it and ground a second time, then it goes into a packaging machine that stuffs the ground meat into the 1, 3, 5, and 10 lb. tubes, right into boxes, sealed, put through a nitrogen cooler and onto trucks and tractor trailers that roar out of the plant 24/7! This is how they are able to assign a 45 day shelf-life code vs. store-ground meat with a 1 day in-store shelf life! Bacteria levels are so low they are almost non-existent in plant made ground meats, whereas in store ground meats bacteria from many sources flourish.
I have been brought up in meat rooms and have seen just about all the 'bad' things done that end up in grinds. The weekends are the worst, no inspectors come into the stores to confiscate samples to test on weekends. I have seen rotten lamb, pork, veal and chicken added to grinds, grinds pulled from being dark, frozen, then sawed up into frozen sticks to add to fresh meat and reused, pigs blood added to grinds to 'freshen' them, spit and drool commonly mixed in, to say nothing of many 'nastier' things added intentionally. When you buy store-ground meats, you're risking your health on the integrity of the worker, of dubious scruples.