Ground beef in area stores test too high for fat content


When you buy ground beef, you are faced with a number choices for fat content.

Some shoppers even choose to shell out a few extra bucks for that leaner cut.

From chuck to sirloin and everything in between, the label lets you know how much fat there is and how much it is going to cost you.

The lower the fat content, the higher the price.

At least, that's what we thought before our 2-month investigation.


Before the food ever hits the table, Kathleen Vernace plans ahead to ensure her 3 children are getting the best quality meats.

"I go out of my way to get to get certain cuts that I think will be healthy for me and family," said Vernace.

Paying premium for ground beef that can range from 7 percent to 20 percent fat.

How do you know if the label is accurate?

"I am counting on it," explained Vernace.

To find out how the fat content on the label of store bought ground beef compared to the actual fat content, CBS12 put the meat to the test.


We went shopping at the same grocery stores in our area that most of us use; Publix, Winn-Dixie and Whole Foods.

We went to three locations of each chain and bought a variety of ground beef.

To keep the test blind, we placed each pound of meat into their own specially marked bag.

We packed them in a cooler with blue ice and shipped them overnight to IEH Analytical, a certified food testing laboratory in Colorado.

Scientists tested each sample for fat content.

Of the 24 samples collected, half tested with less fat, while the other half, 12, tested with a higher fat content than the label indicated.

Under Federal regulations, the Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers to be off by as much as 20% of what's on the label.

For example, ground beef labeled 20 percent fat, can have as much as 24 percent fat.

Out of the 12 that tested with a higher fat content than the label showed, the lab found seven of the samples had fat content above the allowed 20 percent margin of error.

"It is frustrating that they advertise incorrectly," said Vernace.

"On top of it, you pay extra money for lean meats."

The highest margin was one sample of ground beef from Whole Foods on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.

It was advertised as 15 percent fat, the FDA allows up to an 18 percent margin of error, the lab results came in at 23.78 percent.

That's 58 percent more fat than the label indicated.

Winn-Dixie had four samples the lab tested and found the fat content above that 20 percent margin of error.

Publix had two samples that tested with a fat content above the twenty percent margin of error. Publix did not reply with a statement.


Statement from WHOLE FOODS:

Whole Foods Market grinds fresh meat in-store multiple times daily. Our policy is to test each batch of ground beef for lean-to-fat content before it is sold. Team members are required to follow specific guidelines on testing and logging the fat ratio, time and establishment number of each batch to ensure that our meat is fresh and our signage is accurate. Because our stores grind in batches, it is possible that the small sample simply contained a larger percentage of fat than the batch as a whole. We have taken this opportunity to retrain our butchers in the testing procedures. Our commitment to our customers is 100% transparency and accuracy.

Statement from WINN-DIXIE:

Thank you for your inquiry and for allowing us the time to look into this for you.

For decades, Winn-Dixie has been known as, "The Beef People," because of our exceptionally high quality standards and attention to value for our customers. Our customers remain highly satisfied with our fresh meats, as we recently saw significant sales increases in sales over the Easter holiday weekend in South Florida.

We have more than 2,000 highly trained and experienced butchers in our store network throughout the Southeast who take great care in the quality, value and service that guide our efforts each day. They do freshly grind beef within our stores every day, although the fat percentages are determined and labeled as such in the bulk product that is shipped to our stores. Everything we buy is within the structure of the USDA Guidelines, and we also offer product that is ground and packaged within USDA-inspected facilities from one of the nation's leading beef providers.

Our meat departments regularly undergo rigorous internal audits that measure, among many things, sanitation and product traceability.

We are totally committed to offering a high quality product, at a great price that our customers can trust. If they ever have an issue with any product they've been sold, we will gladly do all we can to correct the situation and ensure they are satisfied.

-Michael Bove, Group Vice President, Fresh

Statement from PUBLIX:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comment on your inquiry.

At Publix, we are committed to providing the highest quality products and services to our customers. We pride ourselves in providing timely and accurate information to our associates and customers. This philosophy extends to each area within our stores. Our meat departments are no exception. We work closely with our suppliers and associates to ensure our grinding processes is followed and that the lean point in our meat is accurately labeled. When we receive meat products from our suppliers, the lean-to-fat content on those products meets or exceeds regulatory expectations. In store, we grind meat into smaller batches starting with the leanest, lean-to-fat content to protect the integrity of the product. Due to the batched grind process at the store level, smaller samples may contain a larger fat content.

We would never knowingly disappoint our customers and are always striving to exceed our customers’ expectations.

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