ATLANTA — USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) now allows cow heart as an ingredient in ground beef, overturning a policy that processors followed for nearly 40 years.
The agency didn’t publicly announce that it scrapped the policy, a move that surprised industry officials, including the policy’s author, here at the International Production and Processing Expo.
Norm Robertson, vice president of regulatory affairs for the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), said an overarching FSIS regulation that defines what can be called ground beef always generally included heart, and the new decision aligns with that regulation. But in practice, the agency since 1981 had followed “Policy Memo 27,” which prohibited heart meat and tongue as ingredients.
The memo, written by industry attorney Bob Hibbert, was intended to support FSIS under the presumption that consumers would not expect heart to be in ground beef that they purchase and consume.
FSIS does not require heart to be identified as an ingredient on package labels.
“That’s the dilemma the change creates now,” Robertson told Meatingplace. “Would consumers want to know that there’s heart in their ground beef?”
Meanwhile, as a matter of business, Robertson said all processors should know that heart meat is acceptable so that the economical playing field is level.
As a matter of technicality, in addition to the no-labeling requirement, there is no limitation on how much heart and tongue meat can go into ground beef. But cheek meat remains limited to no more than 25 percent of the mix, and must be declared on a label if it exceeds “natural proportions.”