Retired doctor Louis Offen and his wife have been shopping at the same Giant supermarket in Bethesda, Md., for nearly 40 years. Offen is in charge of buying the steak, which normally means combing the meat section for New York strip sirloins with the label “USDA grade choice,” the mid-level grade for meat. The cut is ubiquitous.
But one day last month, Offen was stumped. He couldn’t find any packages with a “choice” label. He couldn’t find lower-quality beef, called “select,” either. All he found was an unfamiliar blue crest that read “USDA graded” on every package of beef. “Isn’t all beef sold in stores USDA graded, making that label useless?” he asked.
In recent weeks, Giant stores nationwide changed their labeling procedures, making it difficult for customers to know the quality of meat. Rather than providing different options, the company labeled meat simply as “USDA graded” — a description that applies to all but a tiny amount of meat approved for sale in the United States.