How much fat is really in that beef you're about to eat?

How much fat is really in that beef you're about to eat? »Play Video
BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - Ground beef is the most popular kind of meat sold from the meat counter in our grocery stores.

Kuna resident, Kim Mulkey, knows it's popular and cooks ground beef for her family on a regular basis. Mulkey, like many other people, pay attention to the fat percent labels on the package.

"We are more a leaner family, if we can get the leanest, whatever the leanest the store has," Mulkey said.

Mulkey says she looks at the labels for health reasons and buys according to her recipes.

"It depends on what's you're mixing with your meat. So if you are doing something a little more lubricated with your meat, you know it's going to grease up when it cooks, then you can go with the leaner," Mulkey said.

All ground beef is marked and distributed following USDA standards. KBOI spoke with the Traci Bracco, executive director of the Idaho Beef Council, who explained meat is inspected on a federal level.

"It's not an individual retailer choice necessarily. They comply with federal guidelines on how a beef package is labeled," Bracco said.

KBOI wanted to see how accurate ground beef labels really are, so we tested ground beef from five different local grocery stores. We took the samples to Analytical Labs in Boise. The meat is put through a series of tests three different types. The testing separates the fat from the protein. Once we have the fat levels, we can compare the percents to the labels.

Out of the five samples, none of the labels matched. Our first beef sample is labeled 80 percent lean and 20 percent fat, yet the lab revealed the fat is more than two percentage points off of that. Sample two promises 15 percent fat, when it test closer to 20. Sample three advertises 20 percent, but surprisingly checks in just above 13 percent.

The final two samples are labeled 10 percent fat, yet both come in about two percentage points higher. The microbiologist who conducted the test, Sandy Koch, was not surprised by the results.

"To tell you the truth, it isn't that surprising. It's hard to make sure 100 percent of your product is only 20 percent fat. You're grinding up meat--it's a non homogeneous sample," Koch said.

Koch also explained when you are mixing anything together, it is extremely difficult to get it right. Despite the inaccuracies, the meat remains fairly lean, but mismatched labels don't sit well with everyone.

"(It's a) waste of your time waste of your money.You think you're feeding your family something lean and healthy, and then find out that's you're not," Mulkey said.

Since the meat is held to USDA standards, KBOI contacted federal regulators for comment, but no one returned our call. The Idaho Beef Council also issued a statement saying they believe consumers should get what they pay for.

"As beef producers we feel strongly that consumers should get what they pay for and that when purchasing ground beef they can be confident that it's wholesome, nutritious and labeled correctly, and that retailers have the proper procedures in place to ensure this," Bracco from the Idaho Beef Council stated.

Federal meat inspectors allow for a small margin of error meaning fat content is legally allowed to be higher or lower than what's on the label. The bottom line for the consumer: be aware that labels may not be 100 percent accurate all the time.