Food Grades

What if foods were given a report card based on their quality? Well, in some cases, that’s exactly what happens! They are given grades.

Fun Facts

  • The Food Safety Act of 1990 calls for certain foods to be regularly inspected and monitored for wholesomeness and safety. Meat, eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables are among the foods affected by these laws.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) monitors our food supply. Meatpacking plants and other plants are regularly inspected by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). FSIS is focused on food safety, but doesn’t make any distinctions about food quality.
  • Grading for quality is a voluntary service paid for by food producers. The USDA does the grading. For example, you might notice labels on beef in the grocery store. Prime is the highest quality, followed by Choice and There are actually eight grades of beef, but these are the three you’re most likely to see. All grades of beef are safe to eat, but you’ll notice that beef labeled Prime has better flavor and a more tender, juicy texture.
  • Chicken is given a grade of A, B, or C, although you’ll only see grade A chicken in the grocery store. Chicken graded B or C is used in foods like canned soup.
  • Grade A eggs are eggs that are guaranteed to be the same size and to not have cracks. Lower-grade eggs are used in pasteurized egg products.
  • Maple syrup is graded according to color with the lightest maple syrup being the most expensive—although not necessarily the most desirable. Darker maple syrup has a stronger maple flavor, which many people prefer. From lightest to darkest, the grades are Fancy, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B.
  • Fresh produce is graded based on more than 300 attributes, including size, color, and whether the food is blemished or not. Produce is also graded on whether it’s meant for processing, e.g., juice or sauce, versus fresh eating.

Questions and Answers

Question: Is organic food graded the way other foods are graded?

Answer: The process of getting food labeled organic is separate and in addition to the regular grading process.


Learn More

Watch a movie on how eggs are graded.