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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Farm Fresh is ALWAYS Best!

I haven't had to buy meat from a grocery store in years (going on 5 years) now.  We get all of our beef, pork, poultry, etc., by raising our own or by purchasing it from a local farmer and having it processed at a local butcher.

I am low on beef and pork now and I saw in a local grocery store ad that they had pork tenderloins for $3.99 a pound which I thought was a good deal.  Given the rising cost of groceries in general, I was psyched to find such a good deal.  Add to the good deal the fact that I needed to have some pork on hand for some upcoming meals I was planning, it seemed like a win-win situation.  Normally, I am strict about buying locally, but I figured since we don't have enough cash on hand yet to buy and process the entire hog, I would get by with purchasing some grocery store meat.  Since I haven't done it in five years, it seemed like an OK plan.

I purchased the pork tenderloin on Monday.  The "sell by" date was 5-11-11.   I opened the vacuumed sealed pork the morning of 5-12-11 to find a slimy rancid piece of pork.

After sticking my nose into it a few times, hoping each time that I would come up with a different result, I had to finally admit that the meat was spoiled.  I grabbed a baggie from the drawer to put the meat back in so I could return the meat to the store and as I was grabbing the packaging to show the manager, I realized that there were actually TWO stickers on the package.  One was overtop of the other.  I held the package up to the light and was able to see through the label that the first "sell by" date was actually 5-5-11.

Infuriated that the store did that, I went online to research whether that practice was illegal and it turns out it IS NOT!  According to the USDA website:

What is Dating?
"Open Dating" (use of a calendar date as opposed to a code) on a food product is a date stamped on a product's package to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It can also help the purchaser to know the time limit to purchase or use the product at its best quality. It is not a safety date. After the date passes, while not of best quality, the product should still be safe if handled properly and kept at 40 °F or below for the recommended storage times listed on the chart (see below). If product has a "use-by" date, follow that date. If product has a "sell-by" date or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the chart below.

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Is Dating Required by Federal Law?
Except for infant formula and some baby food (see below), product dating is not generally required by Federal regulations. However, if a calendar date is used, it must express both the month and day of the month (and the year, in the case of shelf-stable and frozen products). If a calendar date is shown, immediately adjacent to the date must be a phrase explaining the meaning of that date such as "sell-by" or "use before."

There is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States. Although dating of some foods is required by more than 20 states, there are areas of the country where much of the food supply has some type of open date and other areas where almost no food is dated. 

Refrigerator Storage of Fresh or Uncooked Products
ProductStorage Times After Purchase
Poultry1 or 2 days
Beef, Veal, Pork and Lamb3 to 5 days
Ground Meat and Ground Poultry1 or 2 days
Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, Tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings)1 or 2 days
Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating5 to 7 days
Sausage from Pork, Beef or Turkey, Uncooked1 or 2 days
Eggs3 to 5 weeks

According to these guidelines, I should have had three to five more days to cook the meat based on the date that was clearly visible on the package!  

Obviously, I'm going to return the meat to the store and demand a refund and strongly  suggest that they stop re-labeling meat and selling it to the public.  When I think of the ways things could have gone wrong - what if I was an inexperienced cook who did not know that slimy, smelly meat meant it was spoiled? It's scary!  What if I had still had a head cold and hadn't been able to smell the putrid odor coming from the pork?  it is irresponsible for that grocery store to sell items that could be a health hazard.

One of the issues that modern day farmers have great debate over are situations like this.  It is only common sense that small farmers must practice ethical, safe and healthy ways of farming in order to build a reputable business.  Unfortunately, there are TONS of rules and regulations that small farmers must follow, hoops to be jumped through, and red tape to cut in order for a small farmer to have a successful and profitable business.  However, the government has less strict standards for larger industries.  If you boil it all down, what most farmers feel is that they are paying (literally) to be allowed to farm and larger farming institutions (and those related to those larger institutions such as grocery stores) are able to do whatever they want without the same standards.  Larger farming institutions are not hurt  if one of their product is substandard, but if one of our products is substandard, it hurts our reputation and our business for a very long time.  

Additionally, paying the fees required for certain classifications within the USDA guidelines are more than most small farmers can pay when they are starting up a business.  Most of the farmers I know practice many components of farming that would be considered "organic." However, having a farm certified organic is often such cost to a farm that any profit that would come from obtaining the certified label would be more than they could spare.  

Now, I'm not saying that buying organic is not a good option.  As I've said in other posts, these words are just my opinion, and should be recognized as such.  I am not an expert, I'm just telling you the experiences I've had as someone (relatively new) in the agriculture industry.  In terms of the purchases for my family, it is more important for me, right now, to buy products that are grown locally.  Especially beef, pork, and chicken.  Right now we are in the process of raising our own chickens again.  We have also purchased Berkshire pigs but the sows are being raised to be breeding stock, so it will be a while before we have Goodness Grows Pork available for our own consumption and sale, but in the mean time, we have a friend that raises beef  and pork so we will be purchasing beef and pork SOON!

If you are looking for a local farmer to purchase product from, talk to your friends and neighbors and see what they are doing.  Stop at a local feed store like an Agway or something like that and ask if they know of anyone who is raising animals for sale.  Produce farmers are a little easier to find because of the recent rise to popularity of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Farmer's Markets.  Lots of times, if the farmer you contact doesn't have something you are looking for, he or she will know someone that they can refer you to.  And you can be happy because you are buying a product that is healthier for you and you are supporting your local community.  

My main motivation in purchasing the pork loin was that it was CHEAP. I have officially learned my lesson. I'll be taking my refund from the chain store grocery, running to my local butcher who only sells LOCALLY RAISED beef, pork and chicken, and buying a new piece of meat.  Sure, it will be a little pricier, but I will be getting the quality that I'm paying for.  And that is worth more than anything.  

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