Food Distribution Program:

USDA's Canned Beef and Pork Can Be Improved

RCED-91-81: Published: May 13, 1991. Publicly Released: May 28, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the quality of canned meat distributed by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its food distribution program, focusing on: (1) perceived product acceptability; (2) comparability to other similar federal and commercial products; (3) quality assurance procedures; (4) procurement standards and specifications; and (5) alternatives for aesthetic or other product improvements.

GAO found that: (1) although state distributing agencies generally accepted both the canned beef and pork items, they indicated dissatisfaction with the presence of such objectionable material as blood vessels, connective tissue, and tendons; (2) USDA received complaints regarding other unappealing canned beef and pork characteristics, such as fat and salty taste; (3) canned beef and pork included 99 percent meat, of which no more than 18 percent could be fat, and up to 1 percent added salt; (4) USDA allowable fat content in its canned beef and pork was less than that of retail fresh lean ground beef, and the salt levels in other retail products were both lower and higher than they were in USDA canned beef and pork; (5) USDA inspected its canned beef and pork for wholesomeness under the same procedures it used for all meats intended for interstate trade; and (6) USDA could employ a number of alternative product specifications and processing methods to improve both products' appearance.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA modified the material requirements and incorporated an examination for excluded material in canned pork in October 1990. In August 1990, the material requirements for canned beef were tightened and additional excluded material requirements are being incorporated.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should explore the cost and benefits of revising the product specifications for USDA canned beef to require a boning and trimming inspection with adequate defect criteria, such as that included in the pre-1984 specifications, that will reduce the amounts of objectionable materials included in this product.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA agrees that alternative processing and packaging methods could improve the appearance of canned meat. However, USDA points out that costs must be considered before any changes can be justified. USDA did agree to a trial test of salt levels in its canned meat products.

    Recommendation: To improve the physical characteristics of USDA canned beef and pork, the Secretary of Agriculture should explore the use of alternative processing and packaging alternatives, and consider adopting those that are most effective and cost-efficient.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA agrees that new labels can improve its canned meat products. New labels have been prepared that include an explanation on removal of fat, and that products are fully cooked in their own juices, and a ready-to-use recipe. These labels will be used on future canned meat purchases.

    Recommendation: To improve the physical characteristics of USDA canned beef and pork, the Secretary of Agriculture should revise product labels in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration's nutrition labelling initiative to improve the content description and include nutrition information on the cans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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