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Steers and heifers comprising the U.S. "fed" beef supply are highly variable in biological type, age, and management background (most are grain-finished, but they are started on feed at different ages, given different growth promoting implants, fed for differing periods of time, and slaughtered at different ages). The beef industry's current system for ensuring acceptable product tenderness involves "mass inspection" (USDA Quality Grading) of completed products (carcasses) at the end of the production process. Although this system results in general categorization according to tenderness differences, product value is lost due to inaccuracy of sorting methodology (Quality Grades account for approximately 5 to 30% of the variation in beef tenderness) and because "inferior" products have been produced and must be sold at discounted prices. Additionally, the effectiveness of the present grade-based "quality assurance" system is reduced even further by the fact that most (over 80%, according to the 1995 National Beef Quality Audit) of the beef carcasses produced by "fed" steers and heifers fall within a very narrow range in USDA Quality Grades (Select and Choice) Cattle producers have been very successful in producing cattle that are very uniform with respect to Quality Grade, yet it has been estimated that, still, 1 in 4 beef steaks "doesn't eat right".
An alternative approach for ensuring product tenderness, which would involve the use of Total Quality Management principles in a "Palatability Assurance Critical Control Points" (PACCP) system, was proposed at the 1994 National Beef Tenderness Conference. Application of such a system requires identification of causes of non-conformance (in this case, toughness) and, then, focuses on prevention of non-conformance through control of inputs and processes. This report summarizes results of a project commissioned by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to develop a Total Quality Management System, using a combination of "critical control points" and "corrective actions", which could be used to reduce the incidence of retail beef tenderness problems in loin (top sirloin and top loin) steaks.