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snopes 02 July 2013 05:28 PM

Meat packaging trays
Comment: A local friend shared this interesting tidbit today!

"Did you know that the yellow Styrofoam trays in the meat department mean the meat comes from out of the country and the black trays mean it is USDA? Learn something new every day! I wanted to know if the cheaper meat came from the US and the butcher said 'No, Mexico" and then he explained the significance of the colors, which I had no clue about." This conversation applied to meat ... not sure about chicken since most chicken is in yellow trays.

GenYus234 02 July 2013 05:54 PM

I assume by USDA they mean US raised beef since the USDA doesn't (AFAIK) raise beef for consumer use. Or do they mean a yellow tray is imported beef that hasn't been USDA inspected or approved at all?

MooseMacD 02 July 2013 06:23 PM

What does the white tray mean then? :)

Richard W 02 July 2013 06:33 PM

Would it make sense to import cheap fresh meat? Over here, imported "fresh" meat is usually things like New Zealand lamb which have a reputation for being better - we can produce cheap stuff ourselves (and good stuff too). A lot of cheap beef comes from South America but it's usually tinned, I believe. Most chicken seems to be produced in the UK whether it's cheap battery stuff or more expensive free-range corn-fed stuff.

Cheap imported stuff would be used in processed foods and ready meals (hence the recent horsemeat scandal) rather than "fresh", I would have thought.

I just checked the packs of meat I have in the fridge / freezer and most of it's in clear plastic packs anyway. I have British lamb like that, and some cod of unspecified national origin, but presumably off British boats - it's all "line caught in the North East Atlantic" so putting a country on it wouldn't make sense. I have some British sausages that are in a black tray but I think all the Sainsbury's sausages that are packed in trays rather than wrappers are black, and they're all probably made with British pork anyway.

If anything I'd say Sainsbury's trays are coloured according to the kind of meat rather than country of origin. But I suppose there's no reason to think that the OP would apply in the UK anyway.

(eta) The implication of this is that produce and meat in the USA isn't usually labelled with country of origin, then? I think that's a legal requirement here.

mags 02 July 2013 07:02 PM

IME the black trays are used for Black Angus beef. Other beef is usually on white trays. The only thing I've seen on yellow is chicken.

If there is some place where the OP is even true, I think it is only that place.

A Turtle Named Mack 02 July 2013 07:24 PM


Originally Posted by Richard W (Post 1749345)
Would it make sense to import cheap fresh meat?

I have been wondering that in connection with a local bbq restaurant chain that has been advertising that its ribs are imported from Europe. Say what!? - what's wrong with US or Canadian ribs? But it occurred to me that maybe Europeans are not so big on ribs as many Americans are, so that what would be at best a cheap stew cut there is a value-added cut when sent across the Atlantic, enough to justify the shipping cost. Anyone have any insight on that?

Avril 02 July 2013 07:39 PM

If my meat comes on trays, it's usually blue ones.

Richard W 02 July 2013 07:57 PM

I think you're probably right that ribs aren't so much of a delicacy here, ATNM. You might have them as a starter in a restaurant - Chinese restaurants tend to do ribs as starters, and you can get BBQ ribs from pizza places, but they tend to be a fast food / takeaway thing. Not many people would buy a rack of ribs to cook for themselves at home. Rack of lamb is a thing, but it's more usual to chop it up into chops. I would be surprised if there was half the demand for ribs in the UK as there is in the USA.

The meat might make a difference - I assume you mean beef? But as you say, I doubt "European" beef as a whole is better than "North American" / US beef. Some specific sorts perhaps, such as Scottish Aberdeen Angus steaks, but I would have thought the USA could easily match Europe in general for beef production. If it was really good quality beef I would have thought they'd be more specific about where it was from than "Europe". It's not that long ago that a lot of our beef turned out to be horsemeat.

South America is the continent most associated with beef farming, and even that isn't necessarily because it's good beef - just large volumes. Kobe beef ribs, perhaps... but I read in a linked article a few months ago that the USA doesn't respect international food labelling and trademarks, so you can legally sell "Kobe" beef that was farmed in the USA anyway and has nothing to do with the Japanese stuff.

Floater 03 July 2013 09:51 AM


Originally Posted by Richard W (Post 1749345)
(eta) The implication of this is that produce and meat in the USA isn't usually labelled with country of origin, then? I think that's a legal requirement here.

If Britain is anything like Sweden, and why not both are members of the EU, and this is an EU requirement I'd say sort of. In the best of worlds meat is labelled with country of origin, but there are ways for importers to override this.

Lainie 03 July 2013 12:26 PM

It appears there are such laws, although they don't apply to all retailers -- interestingly, butcher shops and meat markets are exempt, which I guess leaves grocery stores.

Here's the USDA (Department of Agriculture) FAQ on Country of Origin Labeling Laws (COOL).

thorny locust 03 July 2013 01:21 PM

I have a restaurant/grocery supply catalog (Hubert's); it lists black and white meat trays, but with no mention of using them for different purposes.

The catalog does list liners for meat cases in multiple colors with the suggestion that they be used for different types of meats; but there's nothing suggesting using different ones for different places of origin.

Chloe 03 July 2013 02:11 PM

Wal-Mart has a new steak promotion drawing attention to its black trays. Possible connection?

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