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Quality Attributes (I)

In this section:

ArrowGrade & Yield
ArrowCanadian and U.S. Grading Comparison
ArrowAging
ArrowLocation of Cut
ArrowTrim Specifications

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Grade & Yield

The Canadian beef grading program complements Canada's meat inspection program to form an effective combination for the marketing of Canadian beef. The Canadian system began in 1929 and since that time, many changes have taken place to the grading system. It is now regarded as one of the best in the world.

Photo of a carcass of beefThe Canadian beef grading system fulfills the primary purpose of dividing the population of cattle carcasses into uniform groups to determine quality and price and to facilitate marketing. The system provides an effective, easy-to-understand means of describing a product to both buyers and sellers. Major changes were introduced to the system in 1992, 1996 and 2001 to more accurately assess beef carcass quality and yield and align itself closer to that of the US. This system enables buyers, when specifying a grade, to be assured of specific quality and yield information on the particular carcasses to which a grade has been applied. Other than the market segmentation function, grading is also performed for payment purposes to cattle producers. Producers receive premiums for cattle that grade higher.

Although the grading system itself is voluntary, the overwhelming majority of the government-inspected beef carcasses processed in Canada are graded. In Canada, beef grading is provided by the Canadian Beef Grading Agency in plants that receive either federal or provincial government meat inspection services. Grade standards and regulations are enforced by Government of Canada employees.

The Canadian Beef Grading Agency

Canadian Beef Grading AgencyThe Canadian Beef Grading Agency (CBGA) is a private, non-profit corporation which has been accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to deliver grading services for beef in Canada. The grade standards are set by the Federal Government based on recommendations from the Industry/Government Consultative Committee on Beef Grading. The factors used in grade assessment are directly related to the tenderness, juiciness, consumer acceptability, and yield of a carcass.

Cattle are graded in plants at what is known as the grading station. Once the carcass sides are chilled (24-48 hours after slaughter), the grader performs a number of functions:

  • Assesses muscular development

  • Determines exterior fat colour and texture

  • Calculates yield

  • Scores the level of marbling in the lean muscle.

Once the above determinations are made, the carcass is stamped with a Grade and Yield. There are thirteen beef grade classifications in the Canadian system. They are:

'A' Grades:      Prime, AAA, AA, A
'B' Grades:      B1, B2, B3, B4
'D' Grades:      D1, D2, D3, D4
'E' Grade:      Canada E

A Grades stampsMost prevalent in foodservice, the 'A' grades (Prime, AAA, AA, A) are the highest quality Canadian grades, representing over 90% of all graded beef in Canada.

The 'B' grades are for youthful carcasses (less than 30 months of age) that do not meet the minimum quality requirements of the 'A' grades. They represent approximately 1% of all Canadian graded beef. The 'D' grades are essentially cow grades (from mature carcasses) and represent about 5% of the total graded cattle. Finally, 'E' grade is reserved for mature bulls or youthful bull carcasses showing pronounced masculinity. This grade represents about 0.2% of the graded cattle population. It is important to remember that since grading is voluntary, cows and bulls tend not to be graded and are referred to as "no-roll" or "ungraded" beef when sold.

Grades Requirements

Grade % Maturity (Age) % Muscling % Rib Eye Muscle % Marbling % Fat Colour and Texture % Fat Measure

CANADA PRIME Youthful Good to excellent with some deficiencies Firm, bright red Slightly abundant Firm, white or amber 2 mm or more
CANADA A, AA, AAA Youthful Good to excellent with some deficiencies Firm, bright red A – trace
AA – slight
AAA – small
Firm, white or amber 2 mm or more
B1 Youthful Good to excellent with some deficiencies Firm, bright red Devoid Firm, white or amber Less than 2 mm
B2 Youthful Deficient to excellent Bright red No requirement Yellow No requirement
B3 Youthful Deficient to good Bright red No requirement White or amber No requirement
B4 Youthful Deficient to excellent Dark red No requirement No requirement No requirement
D1 Mature Excellent No requirement No requirement Firm, white or amber Less than 15 mm
D2 Mature Medium to excellent No requirement No requirement White to yellow Less than 15 mm
D3 Mature Deficient No requirement No requirement No requirement Less than 15 mm
D4 Mature Deficient to excellent No requirement No requirement No requirement 15 mm or more
E Youthful or mature Pronounced masculinity

Yield

The carcass meat yield is predicted using a muscle score and fat score and yield grades are not assessed on carcasses in the B, D, or E grades. To enable the grader to estimate the carcass meat yield quickly, a special ruler has been developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada which scores length and width of the rib eye and external fat thickness over the rib eye. To determine whether the Yield Grade is Y1, Y2, or Y3, the ruler is applied to the surface that is exposed when the carcass is cut between the 11th and 12th rib.
(Photo – 1 & 2: Length and width of ribeye muscle; 3: Fat thickness)

Carcass meat yield measures

Agriculture Canada yield ruler

There are three possible yield grades assigned:

Canada 1 logo Carcasses exhibiting high quality characteristics and estimated to contain 59% or more lean meat
Canada 2 logo Carcasses exhibiting the same high quality characteristics and estimated to contain between 54% and 58% lean meat
Canada 3 logo Carcasses with high quality characteristics and estimated to contain 53% or less lean meat.

Marbling

Canada continues to improve the quality of beef it produces.The assessment of marbling is based on the average amount, size and distribution of fat particles or deposits in the rib eye. Listed in order of increased marbling content the eight levels of marbling are: Trace, Slight, Small, Modest, Moderate, Slightly Abundant, Moderately Abundant, and Abundant. Commodity beef (that which is not specifically branded), utilizes only four of the nine scores in the assessment of Canada's quality grades.

CANADA A grade is assigned to a carcass with youthful characteristics, bright red meat colour, and white fat with at least "trace" marbling.

CANADA AA grade is assigned to a carcass with similar characteristics but with a minimum of "slight" marbling.

CANADA AAA grade carcasses will again have similar high quality characteristics but with a minimum of "small" marbling.

PRIME is reserved for those carcasses with high quality characteristics but with a minimum of "slightly abundant" marbling.

CFIA, in consultation with the Canadian beef industry, is constantly reviewing regulations to ensure that the safety and marketability of Canadian beef is maintained and improved. A consultation mechanism is in place to permit input from all sectors of the industry with regard to concerns about the inspection and grading systems.

Boxed beefThe industry has moved away from the sale of carcass beef, or swinging beef as it is sometimes referred, to the sale of boxed beef. While there are many benefits to boxed beef, an issue is the potential loss of grade identity on individual cuts. In an effort to address the issue of grade identification on the beef cuts, there is a compulsory monitoring of grade identification and labeling by CFIA. All Canadian boxed beef product distributed domestically or exported by federally inspected establishments must either carry a grade identity or be marked as "ungraded". Assuming the product is in its original packaging, the buyer can be confident that the product within the box bears the grade for the carcass from which it was derived.

Computer Vision System (CVS)

Screenshot of the CVS SystemThe video image analysis or computer vision, measures the crude fat content, colour and textural properties. The CVS Ribeye Camera acquires an image of the ribeye at the grading stand. It objectively measures rib eye area and shape, marbling percentage, fat thickness, and lean/fat colour.

CVS uses this information and provides the following information:

  • Saleable Meat Yield Prediction

  • Yield Grades (to 1/10th of a unit)

  • Primal Yield Prediction

  • Tenderness Assessment

Photo of a tagged cowThough the primary grading function is performed by trained beef graders, Canada is a world leader in the development of new technologies that will increase the accuracy, consistency and traceability of the grading process. In order to produce more consistently palatable beef, there has been considerable effort to develop an objective technological measurement of beef palatability. This measure has the potential of classifying carcasses into groups that produce steaks of similar tenderness or palatability characteristics. This information could be very powerful when breeding cattle for the ideal eating characteristics.

CVS, when linked with the Canadian Cattle Identification Program (cattle ear tagging), offers superior traceability to the point of origin, and improves genetic programs. In other words, producers would match the grade and yield of each carcass, compare that information to the cattle ID, and further fine-tune breeding practices for best results.

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Canadian and U.S. Grading Comparison

Photo of a Canada AAA stampCanadian marbling standards were changed in 1996 and today use the copyrighted graded standards of the United States. To establish the degree of similarity in assignment of beef quality grades in the U.S. and Canada, two studies were conducted in 1994. The studies were conducted by the National Grade Standards Officers of both countries. This study showed that there is a high degree of association (between 90-95%) between the marbling standards of the Canadian and U.S. high quality beef grades.

The chart below illustrates the similarity between the two countries' grading systems. This uniformity of standards allows us to more easily compare similar traits of beef regardless of its country of origin.

Canada Marbling Score United States

Canada Prime Abundant
Moderately Abundant
Slightly Abundant
USDA Prime
Canada AAA Moderate
Modest
Small
USDA Choice
Canada AA Slight USDA Select
Canada A Trace
Practically Devoid
USDA Standard

Though very similar, there are some differences between the two systems, with Canada's regulations more demanding than those of the U.S. Specifically, quality factors in the U.S. are weighted and one factor may be able to compensate for a deficiency in another factor. The Canadian grading system allows no quality attribute offsets.

Standards Used for Quality Grade Determination

Grade Marbling * Maturity ** Meat Colour Fat Colour Muscling Meat Texture

Canada ***

Prime Slightly Abundant 30 months or younger Bright red only No yellow fat permitted Good muscling or better Firm only
AAA Small 30 months or younger Bright red only No yellow fat permitted Good muscling or better Firm only
AA Slight 30 months or younger Bright red only No yellow fat permitted Good muscling or better Firm only
A Trace 30 months or younger Bright red only No yellow fat permitted Good muscling or better Firm only

United States ***

Prime Slightly Abundant Over 30 months permitted Light Red Yellow fat permitted No minimum requirement Moderately firm
Choice Small Over 30 months permitted Dark cutters permitted Yellow fat permitted No minimum requirement Slightly only
Select Slight Only maturity class A Dark cutters permitted Yellow fat permitted No minimum requirement Slightly soft
Standard Practically devoid Over 30 months permitted Dark cutters permitted Yellow fat permitted No minimum requirement Soft

* Minimum marbling permitted for quality grade class

** Maturity is based on approximate age determined by physiological criteria. Only youthful carcasses from cattle, verified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to be 30 months or younger by dentition, meet the export requirements for Canada Prime, AAA, AA, and A.

*** Standards as of August 2003.

Continued...

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