Whenever you visit a grocery store to buy meat, you see that the meats always look fresh. So, you may wonder, “How Do Grocery Stores Keep Meat Fresh?” Being concerned about this fact is normal, as you have to think about the safety of yourself and your family.
To keep the meat fresh, the grocery stores only cut the necessary meat for a day to display and maintain proper temperatures. The stores have to follow this process to avoid a high risk of contamination. Normally, grocery stores can keep meat fresh for 10-14 days.
In this article, I will talk about how grocery stores keep meat fresh. Then, I will discuss if grocery store meats are safe, why you can buy grocery meats, and finally give some tips on buying meats.
How Grocery Stores Keep Meat Fresh
If you think the meat you are buying from grocery stores is always fresh, then you are wrong. Regarding grocery stores, the meaning of fresh food is a little different from the actual meaning of fresh food.
Sometimes fresh grocery foods mean food that is partly frozen, heat-treated, chemically improved, and stored for days. So, the meats you are buying from the stores are not as fresh as you have been thinking.
Now, how do the grocery stores keep the meat fresh as long as possible? With the proper procedures, the stores can keep fresh meats for 10 to 14 days based on the type of meat. However, they can also keep meat frozen for a year.
The groceries have some options for getting meat for the stores. They may have in-house butcher sections or get fresh meat supplies from local butchers' shops and farms. Having an in-house butcher at the store means more fresh meats and less frozen meats.
It is easier to put expiration dates on meats that are cut and grounded in the premises of the stores. But it can be a little difficult to date the fresh meats supplied from outside suppliers. In this case, the grocery stores have to trust the meat suppliers and their instincts.
The grocery store staff have to use their eyes and nose to observe the color and scent of the meat they are bringing in to sell in the stores. They have to make sure that raw meats do not get contaminated or mishandled.
Here is how the grocery stores handle their meat supplies and make them look fresh:
Using Trucks with Coolers or Refrigerators
Raw meat can get spoiled and contaminated very easily. So, the raw meats from the butcher’s shop or farms have to be carefully transported to the grocery stores. It is not a big deal when raw meats come to the store traveling from a little distance. But when it takes longer to reach, grocery stores have to be cautious.
To deliver meat to the groceries, they use trucks or pickups which have coolers or refrigerators. It is much easier and safer to deliver frozen meats. This way, the meats will not get spoiled or contaminated. This is also the reason why sometimes you will find freshly delivered meats cold and covered in a thin layer of ice.
Proper Storage Temperature
When a lot of meat is produced or brought by the grocery stores, they have to store it properly. If the stores do not maintain proper storage temperature, the entire meat load can get spoiled.
The stores are very careful regarding monitoring the appropriate temperature of the storages for the meats. They have strict monitoring rules to make sure the meats are not contaminated. They log the temperatures several times a day because negating can lead to a significant loss.
Meat becomes delicious and tender after hanging for a few days and even a few weeks. It depends on the animal and the type of meat. The grocery stores or the suppliers hang meats in storage or large coolers at a low temperature. When a meat carcass is hung, blood may come out and drop on the floor. So, the grocery stores have to clean it carefully.
After a few days of hanging, the shops cut the meat and pack them for steaks, ground meat, chops, roasts, and every other type of meat preferred by the customers. Some believe that grocery meats are fresher (cleaner) than the meats from butchers’ shops.
Avoiding Human Contact
Too much human contact can contaminate the meat. Bacteria can easily transfer to meat through human contact. So, the grocery stores try to avoid human contact with the meats as much as possible. The staff of the meat section is strictly instructed to handle meats wearing gloves.
The grocery stories cut meats according to standard measurements. When customers make special requests, only then do the stores put their hands on the meats to cut the needed portion.
Using Separate Equipment for Meat
Not just human contact, using random equipment can also contaminate the meat. As meats are easily affected by bacteria, grocery stores have to be more cautious about using equipment to cut and process meat.
They use knives, saws, cutting boards, chopping boards, and grinders separately for different meats like beef, chicken, pork, lamb, and others. If the stores use the same equipment, then they have to properly clean and sanitize the equipment before using it to cut different meats.
If the equipment is not washed and sanitized regularly, meats can easily get contaminated and spoil quickly.
Using Carbon Monoxide
No matter how hard grocery stores try to maintain the natural taste and color of the meats, it is not always possible to maintain. The natural color of the meat will eventually fade away. The stores know that people are always attracted to natural color and taste, and so they use different techniques to make the meats look natural on the shelves.
According to a survey, about 70% of grocery stores and supermarkets may use carbon monoxide on meats. Carbon Monoxide helps to maintain a bright red color of the meats. Although it looks unnatural, it still attracts people to buy meat.
The groceries also use salts like sodium and potassium on sausages, bacon, and salamis to avoid bacterial problems and preserving natural color.
Another method of keeping meat fresh is by adding gas while packing the meat. The gas delays the natural discoloring of the packaged meats. We know this process as Modified Atmosphere Packaging or MAP. It is not illegal, and many other products are also sealed adding gas like this. Some common examples are chips and crackers.
Are Grocery Store Meats Safe?
As you understand that grocery meats are not that fresh, you are probably concerned about buying them. However, you do not need to worry. The meat supplied to the grocery stores are properly inspected and approved to sell to customers.
After animals are slaughtered to send to the supermarkets, food inspectors examine the meat’s safety. Only the approved meats are sold in the grocery stores. These meats are processed and packed following hygienic rules to ensure the best quality.
Also, the grocery stores will not sell any meats that can ruin their reputation. Selling bad or spoiled meats is not good for their business, and so they bring meats from only trusted butchers’ shops and farms.
However, there are still some problems regarding grocery meats. There are often reports about grounding meats containing animal feces. These reports concern many people, and thus they doubt buying meat from grocery stores.
Also, too much use of chemicals like carbon monoxides, artificial colors, potassium, and sodium can be harmful to the human body.
Tips for Buying the Fresh Grocer Meats and Storing Them
Sometimes you buy fresh meats from the stores, but when you reach home, you feel that the meats are not looking that fresh anymore. Both the grocery shops and the customers are responsible for the safety of the meats sold and bought. So, knowing how to spot good meat will allow you to do your part.
There are several facts which you should keep in mind while buying, handling, cutting, and preparing to cook raw meat. Here are a few advices you can follow:
- People often shop for groceries without thinking much about it. It may seem a silly matter, but planning grocery shopping is important to maintain the meat quality. It is better to buy meat at the end of your shopping. It will help to keep the meat cool for a while.
- There is another reason why you should buy fresh meat after getting other things. If you buy meat at the beginning or middle of your shopping, the products get stacked on the meatpacking. As a result, the meat packaging will warm quickly, and the meats get damaged.
- When you are buying meats from the grocery stores, check the expiration date on the meat packaging. Sometimes, the stores give discounts on fresh meat that are close to their expiration dates. They may seem alright, but you have to consume them either on the same day of buying or within a few days.
- If you are not sure about the meat's production, try to get to know where it came from. You can find out the source of the meat and personally inspect if it is safe.
- Try to reach home as soon as possible and keep the meat cool in the refrigerator until it’s time to cook it.
- After returning home, check the packaging of the meat. It can be damaged or punctured in some way. If you find any issue regarding the packaging, it may mean that your meat has been contaminated and needs to be discarded.
- If you want to store the vacuum-packed meat for a long time, put it in the freezer as it is. And if you want to keep it for a shorter period, put it in an airtight plastic container.
- While processing the meat like cutting pieces, wash your hands properly, and use clean equipment.
By now, you must have understood, How Do Grocery Stores Keep Meat Fresh. Although the fresh meats sold in stores are not immediate fresh meats, the stores try their best to maintain the natural taste and texture of the meat and keep it as clean as possible.
The grocery stores have to follow a lot of methods to keep the meats fresh, and thus make their customers satisfied. So, don’t worry about receiving bad or unhealthy meat. Just follow the advice I’ve provided and you need not worry one bit.