UPDATE: Aaron Lavallee, deputy assistant administrator in the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education, today told Food Safety News there’s nothing new about beef hearts being permitted by the regulations in ground beef.

“There is no change to FSIS regulations,” Lavallee says. “Ground beef that consumers purchase every day is made up of various cuts of meat, as allowed under federal regulations. The addition of heart and tongue meat to ground beef does not make it any less safe or wholesome to consume.”

Beef heart meat is addressed on the FSIS website– last updated on Aug. 16, 2016– and it says beef heart meat is permitted in ground beef, but also ends with this statement:

“Note: Policy memo 027, which was published in June of 1982, and a subsequent entry in the Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book under the heading GROUND BEEF state that heart meat is not an acceptable ingredient in chopped beef, ground beef, or hamburger. These guidance materials are not consistent with FSIS regulations and will be revised or rescinded as necessary.”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.   Our original report follows.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has made it okay to use beef hearts in ground beef. It ends an almost 40-year prohibition on the use of  hearts and tongues in ground beef.

HeartShapedPatty_406x250The policy turnaround has caught the beef industry by surprise, with disclosure of whether ground beef is made and sold with beef hearts included not required. That has set off an industry discussion about transparency.

USDA’s long operated under “Policy Memo 027” that said beef hearts should be kept out of ground beef because consumers would not expect to fine beef hearts in ground beef. However, the new policy is also said to be consistent with a longtime FSIS definition of ground beef that also permitted beef hearts as potential ingredients in ground beef.

The change comes as USDA remains in transition, awaiting U.S. Senate confirmation of the secretary of agriculture designate and as many as 250 other political appointees to take over the agency. FSIS may be betting most consumers now will respond to beef hearts as delicacies, and not with doubts. Many chefs do.

Food safety is not a factor, just consumer reaction. That said, it is going to be a test of transparency for the beef industry. Consumers are not going to like being surprised even if they are told it involves something trendy.

And there will be some confusion for a while. Hearts are organs and made of cardiac muscle, not skeletal muscle. Heart pie has long been a favorite for Valentine’s Day.

Whether burgers shaped for their heart content do one day muscle out flowers and chocolates for Valentine’s Day remains to be seen.

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