DENVER - Consumers rely on labels to provide them with the nutritional information they need to make healthy choices, but a CALL7 hidden-camera investigation discovered that some butchers sold ground beef with significantly more fat than stated on the label.
Our investigators purchased 10 samples of ground beef from five Denver-area grocery stores for testing. Investigators then anonymously labeled them, put them on dry ice and shipped them to an independent, out-of-state laboratory. A spokeswoman with the lab confirmed that CALL7 followed the proper procedures and that the results were highly accurate.
Samples from King Soopers, Safeway and Marczyk Fine Foods all passed our test.
But four other samples -- two from Tony's Market on Broadway south of downtown and two from Whole Foods in Cherry Creek – had more fat than the labels promised. Tony's 82-85 percent lean, which should have contained no more than 18 percent fat, had more than 30 percent. The market's 85-89 percent, which should have had no more than 15 percent fat, actually had more than 19 percent.
Two samples from Whole Foods were also over the labeled ratios despite a butcher's assurances to our undercover investigators that the store tests its beef grinds.
Tony's and Whole Foods declined to appear on camera for our story, issuing statements instead. Both markets said they would train employees in the wake of CALL7's investigation (read the stores' full statements below).
Ground beef accounts for about two-thirds of all the beef Americans eat. Even a small rise in percentages can significantly increase the amount of fat consumed. For instance, a four-ounce serving of hamburger that's 90 percent lean has twice as much fat as a 95 percent lean serving, according to published government labels.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented new rules requiring grocers to put nutrition labels on ground beef. However, CALL7 learned that the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is not currently checking ground beef in grocery stores.
"FSIS wants to ensure that labels on raw meat are clear and informative in order to help consumers make the best decisions about feeding their families," Dirk Fillpot, FSIS media supervisor, told Call7 in a statement. "FSIS currently is working on setting up a sampling plan for ground products that will include confirming the accuracy of fat content represented on packaging. We anticipate that our sampling will begin within the next year."
READ THE STATEMENTS FROM THE GROCERS…
At Tony's we grind our fresh meats in small batches up to 6 times daily to ensure the freshest, safest and highest quality available. With any animal product, fat content will vary from animal to animal and exact 'fat to lean' ratio is impossible to attain. We have adjusted our labeling and have spent time with our staff in training to ensure the 'fat to lean' ratio is within the printed range. Our intent is NEVER to misrepresent. We are proud of the products we sell and as always will back with a 100% guarantee. -TONY'S CEO AND PRESIDENT, DANIEL J. ROSACCI
At Whole Foods Market we take a tremendous amount of pride in our ability to offer transparency in our meat department. We regret that this occurred and want to reassure customers we have a process in place meant to prevent this from happening. We grind our meat by hand in stores daily, and it is our policy to test and accurately convey the fat content in every batch. We have addressed the issue with our store, and will use this opportunity to retrain Team Members as necessary in all of our Colorado stores. - WHOLE FOODS