Former USDA analyst is beefing up consumers in Western Nevada College course on selecting meat
August 23, 2007
Richard Kirlicks shakes out the wrinkles in a sheet of grocery store advertisements.
“See this ad,” he says. “Extra lean ground beef.”
The 71-year-old points to a detail under the ad: 87 percent lean.
“How do they know that,” he says, raising his voice. “You see anything on there that says they know that?”
Kirlicks, a former meat analyst, will start teaching a Western Nevada College course this week on how to make decisions when buying beef and pork. He worked for the United States Department of Agriculture for 36 years, over half of that time giving voluntary meat inspections and assigning grades to meat such as select, choice and prime.
He said he wants to use this experience to teach people, for instance, to ask the store how it determines how lean its ground beef is.
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“The more fat they add to the hamburger, the more profit they (stores) make,” he said. “Fat is the most inexpensive thing of everything. A consumer sees this (ad) and they don’t have a clue.”
So buy ground beef that has its leanness already labeled by the USDA, he said.
Though Kirlicks used to inspect meat producers, his criticism is directed at vagueness, not necessarily businesses.
He wants customers to ask questions. He wants stores to give proof.
Ungraded beef promoted with a special name is one thing that especially annoys him. He wants to know what it means.
“There used to be a chain that was very big that had a meat called ‘butcher’s choice.’ Boy, if that’s not a trick. It doesn’t mean a damn thing, but if that’s not tricky. It’s ungraded cattle.”
He is also irritated by the name “baby back ribs.” It describes a certain section of cattle ribs, not ribs taken from infant cattle.
He said he developed a passion for specific answers because USDA analysts have to work to be fair and aggressive. Though the grading is done under a voluntary request from meat manufacturers, a good grade can make a business a lot of money.
“USDA choice carcass is at least 20 cents a pound more than something that is not graded,” he said. “So if you want to put a dollar figure to that, say you’ve got a 700-pound carcass, that’s a $70 dollar spread. Many of our plants in the Midwest grade as many as 5,000 cattle a day, so just do the math.”
Kirlicks said he likes a tender slice of beef, but his class isn’t necessarily about learning how to shop for sirloin or filet mignon. It’s about being informed and learning how to buy wisely.
For instance, he wouldn’t want to use a tough piece of meat for barbecue, but his wife “can cook up a heck of a pot roast.”
What: “Meat Shopping Guide,” a Western Nevada College course on selecting beef and pork
When: Wednesday-Sept. 7 and Nov. 7-16. Class meet Wednesday and Fridays from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Register: 445-3277 or go to http://www.wnc.edu/academics and click on the “Web-REG” link
• Contact reporter Dave Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.