Packaged Meat Now Required to Have Nutrition Labels

Want to know how many calories are in your filet mignon? No? Too bad.

I imagine this will be one of those situations where we all realize ignorance was bliss. It’s like that time I noticed the calorie listings on an Applebee’s menu—there was no going back.

Beginning today, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will require all grocery stores to provide nutrition information for ground meat and poultry and 40 popular cuts, like beef porterhouse steaks, chicken breasts and pork chops. The labels will either appear on the packaging itself, or in the form of charts near the meat displays.

The new labeling requirement is part of a regulation that actually passed in December 2010, but it wasn’t set to take effect until this year. Prior to the ruling, only meat products that had added ingredients, like stuffings or marinades, were required to reveal nutrition facts. Now the rule applies to most meat and poultry products you’ll see at the grocery store.

Exempt from the labeling requirements are small-business meat grinders, defined as ones which “employ 500 or fewer employees and produce no more than 100,000 pounds of a particular ground product annually.” Those producers must refrain from making nutritional claims on their packaging. Small-business meat grinders supply about 25 percent of the products on store shelves.

Just like the Nutrition Facts labels you see on your cereal, the meal labels will include the number of calories and the grams of total fat and saturated fat a product contains, along with cholesterol, sodium, carbs and protein information. And packaging that carries a lean percentage—i.e. “80 percent lean ground beef”—must also include the fat percentage. A trans-fat disclosure is not required, nor is servings per container.

“We don’t want to tell people what to decide,” Elisabeth Hagen, under secretary for food safety, told WebMD. “It is a matter of going into the store and thinking, ‘How many calories will I consume today?’ ‘What is my target for fat grams?’ ‘How does this purchase fit into my own and my family’s diet?'”

Tell us: Do you think nutrition information on meat will make you think twice about your purchase? Or will your buying habits stay the same?