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Food Labels

Labels on Meat and Poultry

In 1993, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), issued a ruling that required mandatory nutrition labeling for most meat and poultry products, except for raw meat and poultry. This agency, which regulates the safety and quality of meat and poultry, worked with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make meat and poultry labels virtually identical to the labels developed for all other foods. The cooperation between these two agencies has made it easier for consumers to use the food labels to plan a healthy diet.

Labels for meat and poultry use the same format as the labels on other foods. There are some slight differences, however. One is that the "% Daily Value" column for a serving of meat or a poultry product may be expressed as raw or cooked or both. Because these foods can lose 25 percent or more of their raw-fat content during preparation, the cooked values provide a better indication of the amount of fat and calories actually eaten. These values are calculated based on preparing the foods by common cooking methods and without added ingredients.

Another difference is that the USDA permits the voluntary labeling of stearic acid on meat and poultry labels. If it is listed, which isn't often, stearic acid would be found under saturated fat and included in the total amount of saturated fat. This particular fatty acid does not appear to raise blood-cholesterol levels the way other saturated fatty acids do.

The USDA has also defined how certain terms, such as "lean" and "extra lean," may be used on the label. Lean meat or poultry products -- as well as seafood and game meats, which are regulated by the FDA -- must contain less than 10 g of fat, 4.5 g or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol in a 3-ounce serving. Extra-lean meat and poultry products must have less than 5 g of fat and less than 2 g of saturated fat, which is about half the amount per serving as lean products, but they can have the same amount of cholesterol, 95 mg, as a lean product.

Voluntary food labeling isn't only for meat and poultry products. See the next page to learn more about voluntary nutrition information programs.

For more information about nutritious eating, see:

  • Eating Healthy: A balanced diet that includes a variety of foods is great for maintaining good health. Find out which food choices work best in a healthy eating plan.
  • Healthy Meals: Mealtimes are the best opportunity for healthy eating. Learn how to create meals that are balanced and nutritious.
  • Weight Loss: For many people, weight loss is an important goal. Explore the different methods of losing weight, and see which can work for you.


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