Ever felt frustrated trying to figure out a beef label? We certainly have. Meat labels can be confusing but they usually contain a lot of information – including inspection stamps, grading information, cut and cooking information as well as brand logos and product attributes.

Here’s a quick guide to help you find your perfect match at the meat counter.

MEAT INSPECTION

Meat inspection in Ontario is performed on multiple levels by either federal or provincial authorities. Both use the principles of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). The focus of HACCP is the prevention of foodborne illness, a key priority in the Canadian beef industry.

Any meat or meat product sold or distributed in Ontario must come from an inspected establishment. These could include a provincially licensed meat processing plant, a federally licensed meat processing plant, or other approved imported sources. The sale or distribution of uninspected meat is illegal, regardless of geographical area, distribution or retail channel.

The provincial and federal meat inspection systems are both built on the commitment to food safety. Each system has strict food safety control measures in place, including procedures for sanitation, production practices, record keeping and many more.

GRADING

The purpose of grading beef is to help describe important characteristics, like marbling, to ensure consistency and predictability in eating quality.

Grading should not be confused with inspection, which is a process designed to ensure rigorous standards of health and hygiene are adhered to in the animal itself and in processing it.

Additionally, unlike inspection, grading is a voluntary process. Beef may be graded only after it has been inspected and received the federal or provincial meat inspection stamp indicating the beef meets all food safety requirements.

Quality and yield grades can only be assigned by a certified Canadian Beef Grading Agency grader.

The Canadian Beef Grading Agency has been accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to assess grades in accordance with national standards, which are set by the federal government.

The top Canadian Grade is Canada Prime, found mainly at fine dining restaurants. Canada AAA is generally the premium grade, followed by Canada AA and Canada A.

MARBLING

Marbling can enhance beef juiciness and flavour. It refers to the fine white flecks of fat you see running through the lean beef. The amount of marbling helps determine the grade of beef.

AGING

Aging can dramatically improve beef tenderness and flavour. It is a carefully controlled process where beef is held at specific temperature and humidity for a set period of time. Beef is best aged at least 10 to 14 days, but be aware, beef cannot be safely aged in your home refrigerator.

PRODUCT OF CANADA VS. MADE IN CANADA

While the use of “Product of Canada” and “Made in Canada” claims are voluntary in Canada, if a company chooses to make one of these claims, the product must meet certain guidelines.

A food product may use the claim “Product of Canada” when all or virtually all major ingredients, processing, and labour used to make the food product are Canadian in origin.

If the “Made in Canada” claim is used, it must also include a qualifying statement to indicate the food product is made in Canada from imported ingredients or a combination of imported and domestic ingredients. The qualifying statements that can be used include “Made in Canada from domestic and imported ingredients” or “Made in Canada from imported ingredients”.

HOW TO IDENTIFY CANADIAN AND ONTARIO BEEF

To be sure you are purchasing Canadian Beef, look for this logo in stores and restaurants.

Looking for Ontario beef? There are several Ontario Brands, such as Ontario Corn Fed Beef. Watch for these logos or chat with your local butcher to find out where they source their beef. We’ve also made your life easier with this handy product locator you can use to find local beef for your grill or table.