Ground Beef Contains ‘Unlimited Quantities’ of Beef Hearts and Tongues

ground beef
iStock/sergeyryzhov

Producers can now add an unlimited amount of beef hearts to ground beef. This policy has been in place since July 2016 when USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) modified an existing policy, writing that beef heart “can be used in unlimited quantities and declared as ‘beef’ on the label.” While news of this change has only just surfaced, the modification was announced via Federal Register notice in August.

Officials say that heart and tongue have always been allowed to be part of the mix of cuts added to ground beef blends, but a 1982 policy known as Policy Memo 27 noted that “heart meat and tongue meat, as organ meats, are not acceptable ingredients in chopped beef, ground beef, or hamburger.” The information published on the USDA website in July notes that this policy was “not consistent with FSIS regulations” and could be “revised or rescinded as necessary.”

“Guidance is not legally enforceable like regulations, but in this case appears to have had the same impact for a long time,” notes Food Safety News of the change.

The original rationale for the 1982 policy was that these cuts were “not expected ingredients in chopped beef, ground beef, or hamburger.”

The heart allowed in ground beef is beef heart meat, limited to “cardiac muscle trimmed from the ventricular wall of a beef heart.” The rest, including vessels and atria, is considered “meat byproduct” and is not allowed in ground beef.

Camas Davis, founder of the Portland Meat Collective, notes that heart is just another muscle and should not change the flavor of ground beef.

“It works perhaps harder than any other muscle in the animal and therefore has a slightly stronger flavor and a slightly tougher texture, but grinding it up and putting it with ground shoulder or ground round or something like that, you’re probably not going to taste it,” she says.

She also notes that heart is richer in iron and protein than other cuts of meat.

“Clearly people somehow think that the heart is somehow off-limits or taboo,” she says. “I know for a fact that there are chefs who put heart in lots of things that they don’t necessarily say on the menu, and people never notice.”

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.