Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has made a startling clarification concerning what exactly counts as “ground beef.” I always assumed that ground beef was made up of various muscle meats that are sold as steaks or roasts at the grocery store, but it turns out there are other ingredients often included in the mixture: heart and tongue meat.
That might be great news for the rare offal-loving hipster, but what about those of us who don’t consume beef heart on the reg? What do we need to know? Formerly, organ meats were not allowed to be ingredients in chopped beef, ground beef or hamburger, but apparently the rules quietly changed in 2015, and no one noticed until now. (So, actually, you’ve probably been eating those organs for awhile now.)
While this may give you the heebie-jeebies at first, once you dig into the details, it gets at least a little less gross. Beef heart does have quite a bit of actual meat on it, and the other parts of the heart, like the arteries, veins and precardial fat can’t be included in ground beef. (Phew!) Basically, the weirdly gooey, rubbery and stringy pieces are still being left out.
Oh, and it’s not just hearts that are making their way into your ground beef. It’s also tongue meat. There are a lot of parts of beef tongue that count as meat byproduct, which can’t be added to ground beef, but some substantial muscle meat from the tongue does make it in. And a USDA rep told Consumerist, “the addition of heart and tongue meat to ground beef does not make it any less safe or wholesome to consume.”
I always assumed hot dogs and chicken nuggets were probably full of random animal parts that no one would want to think too hard about, but I’m surprised to hear the news about ground beef. Just when everyone’s getting over pink slime, something new is (literally) thrown into the mix.
Then again, if it’s not dangerous or unhealthy to eat, maybe it’s a good thing that these formerly unused meats are being added to ground beef. This way, people can enjoy their burgers with a little less guilt knowing that perfectly decent parts of the cow aren’t going to waste for some arbitrary reason like, “Ew, it’s gross!”
In the meantime, I’ll be reading food labels a little more carefully. After all, just because organ meat can be good for you doesn’t mean I want it popping up in the ingredient list of my cereal.