Shrinkage in the Meat Case

Discussion in 'Meat Selection and Processing' started by chuckles, Jun 23, 2014.

  1. Purchased some 8 oz NY Strip Steaks yesterday afternoon from the fresh meat case at a local grocery store. They were priced per steak, not by individual piece weight. When I got them home I weighed them on a scale I trust and every one was less than 7.3 oz. A couple weighed in at 6.7 oz. Based on the color and moist appearance they looked as if they were pretty freshly cut. I talked with the Meat Dept manager and he said that they are allowed some variance for shrinkage and also that it is nearly impossible to cut them exact. I understand that meat starts to dehydrate when it is cut and also about the difficulty cutting them exactly 8 oz. He did apologize and offered to cut some fresh ones for me. My question is how much shrinkage should be expected before they are ever cooked? What's reasonable?
  2. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    OK, from a technical perspective, a couple things come to mind here: by weighing on a scale you trust doesn't mean it's accurate, unless you have proven it to be accurate...and for the general population, there are no perfect ways to verify scale accuracy, unless you KNOW the weight of a measuring cup and fill it with water, then calculate the actual water weight (not the measure by volume) and determine if it is in fact accurate. Knowing the exact weight of your water is not possible without a hydrometer to measure  the specific gravity, as water weight (SG) changes with mineral content, fluctuates from one area to another, and, can change to some degree in a given specific area/location. Using water is just one of many ways to determine scale accuracy without having a weight kit, but to my knowledge it has the lowest risk for error if used correctly. I have a postal-grade 30lb digital scale that measures in 0.2oz increments, and claims an accuracy to within 0.2oz...I haven't checked it to verify it's accuracy for a couple years now, due to not needing a high degree of accuracy as I have not done any meat curing, that said, I have no reason to trust my scale. Retailer's scales are verified periodically by acceptable and trusted methods. I rarely get a scale reading that is the same as the retail packaging states, even with the tare weight for a total...I usually show less on my scale...I doubt that everywhere we purchase meat from would get away with it for very long if their scales were off as much as you described. Sure there is a small allowance for scale error, but you're speaking of somewhere in the range of -16.25%...that would be a rather serious violation of trade standards and would not be worth the risk to any retailer to have scales that far out of tolerance.

    Variance for shrinkage in meats: it will shrink little to none while wet aging in the retail package, and what little bit it might if it did is caused from moisture loss...the moisture should (better) still be in the package...I think we can agree on this, correct? So, for retail purposes, they should err on the side of the consumer...too heavy, not too light, when packaged for sale as a stated, but not actually verified, weight.

    As for losses from cooking, there is always some loss of water weight due to's just part of the process. How much loss you should expect to see will depend on 1) the finished internal temp after resting, 2) fat content and amount of rendered fat after cooking [fat has less water than muscle, but more fat loss and water loss will occur with higher fat content] 3) method of cooking, 4) ambient humidity, and more importantly 5) the cooker's humidity, and 6) resting time and method of resting prior to serving. Cooking to lower I/T equals less water evaporation, but the other factors will change the final water loss to a smaller degree, yet each of these will effect it in varying amounts. Because I haven't weighed cooked steaks to compare to precooked weights (never had a reason to in the past) I can only speculate on water weight loss...possibly 7-8% for med-rare, as a baseline, for example, and probably closer to 20% for med-well...these I would estimate for grate smoking low & slow (225*) with low humidity, and even with reverse sear, probably less loss would occur. Braised or steamed would likely suffer higher overall losses.

    All that said, my best advice is to buy in larger packages and portion it to the amount you want to cook for freezing after repackaging...preferably in vac-sealed bags. I never buy single small cuts, due to price gouging alone, as you're paying more for extra labor to process more packages for the smaller portions. If something is a "manager's special" or "reduced for quick sale" it has very little time left before needing to be frozen or cooked, and as a result, allows less for thaw to cooking time before the risk of illness rises beyond measure. Lastly, steer clear of pre-seasoned meats...that's typically just a cover for meats about to go bad...meat dept mangers don't want to lose the sale of any meats and at times are forced to drastic measures to keep their profit/loss margins looking good on paper...the dreaded "keep the profits up or find another job". Unethical store owners? You bet!!! Would I trust stores who I have seen using these practices with all of my potential purchases? Not a chance...(trust is's not a right and it's not permanent). Illegal? Possibly...I don't have the time or desire to research it at the moment and have not yet read about it anywhere...

    Last edited: Jun 24, 2014
  3. Thanks, Eric. That is great info and I appreciate your response. As far as trust in the scale, I know it is nerdy but, when I first got the scale a friend and I used some metal scale weights from an old school science lab to check it and it consistantly read 0.1 oz over the "known" weight at 24 oz so it should be pretty close when I account for that. My question was more of a curiosity than anything else. I have no other reason to question the inegrity of the store and even my conversation with the dept manager wasn't a complaint but more of an attempt to be better understand things. Again, thanks.
  4. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Ah, I guess I misunderstood some portions of your post, which is a common thing. I had the impression that you felt you had possibly been either deliberately or accidentally gouged (OK, to be blunt, screwed) by the retailer...not uncommon, so quite easy to take it the wrong way...and I've had my share of it over the years. So, I went off on a rant of sorts as a result...LOL!!! You're correct in not having reason to be upset with the meat dept where you purchased the steaks...honest mistake and they were willing to correct it, and then some...can't really complain about that.

    One thing that would strike me as odd is that all the weights of your strip steaks were low. The meat cutter should have been pulling a few steaks to weight them to verify that the actual weight of the packaged meat was at least as much as the label stated. Once upon a time, I worked in the packaging dept of a charcoal briquette plant where we packaged 99 brands of briquettes including generic and store brands, as I recall (I know, 99 brands from the same plant...crazy). The equipment in the production lines I worked on were quite old, even back then. The scales and method of measure for the drop bins on the bagging machines were not designed with a high degree of accuracy, as the charcoal was weighed while the drop-bin was being filled and there was no static weight of the charcoal...weigh on the fly, more or less...and all based on moving mechanical parts and counter-weights. The process was a non-stop weighing while filling, and the speed of filling the bin (among other factors) could effect the final weight of the package. Counter-weights could be shifted/repositioned, added or removed, and fill speed could be changed to increase accuracy of the package weights...a crude system, but it worked with acceptable results for that time period with the available technology. Once you were accustomed to what it took to get acceptable weights for a particular size of bag (back then it was 5, 10 or 20lb), you could make adjustment for changes in bag size/weight fairly quickly, then verify it in the nagged product closely until you repeatable results. Anyway, the shift foreman had to periodically weigh bags of charcoal from each production line to verify the weight was at least as much as stated on the package, plus tare weight. If sample bags were too light, bags from pallets from that production run had to be weighed and if a certain percentage were below weight or the actual weights were beyond tolerance, that production run had to be cut open and returned to the production line for repackaging. Record keeping was also a high priority. So, they did have some tolerance for system design flaws, but if larger errors were detected it was further investigated and appropriate corrective measures were taken. They always tried to err in favor of the consumer to avoid costly re-runs of product and production line shut-downs for adjustments of the equipment. They'd rather give away a little extra product than have any consumer issues or my mind it just seemed like the right thing to do.

    If you verified your scale recently, then yes it should still be accurate, barring possible damage (dropped or bumped hard...some sort of shock-loading to the load-bearing system). The load cells in digital scales are fairly robust and retain their integrity very well, while fully mechanical analog scales tend to be much more sensitive to rough handling, and thus need to be calibrated more frequently. Even the temperature of a mechanical scale can effect accuracy, due to temperature expansion/contraction of the metal springs. One additional drawback to mechanical gauges of either weight, pressure or temperature is that they tend to be less accurate when reading a measurement well above or below the verified measurement. Most have the highest percentage of accuracy in the mid-range of the dial reading, +/-  approx. 20% from the mid-reading, and this degree of accuracy typically changes on the low or high end of the reading. When I verified pressure gauges in safety applications (breathing apparatus air tanks, for example), the standard process for many gauges (depending on manufacturer's specs, etc) was to check the pressure at 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 of the designed pressure. Some were tested at 1/3, 2/3 and full pressure. If somewhere in these ranges the accuracy fell beyond tolerance, then that gauge was retired from service and replaced, but the main concern was that it read the closest at or near empty (low) and at or near full pressure. So, these pressure gauges were used in applications where achieving nearly the impossibly was asked of them: to read within reasonable accurately on the opposite ends of their range of measure...quite a feat to accomplish for a analog gauge, IMHO. This is just one example of how a more technologically advanced method has changed for the better...analog vs digital. As many of us have experienced, digital temp probes are more accurate than analog temp gauges throughout the measurement range when compared to analog temp gauges...there are just too many variables that can effect analog measurement gauges in many applications. For certain applications, specific materials and processes are used in the manufacture to increase the accuracy of the gauge..this, only after a lot of research and trial & error has been completed.

    I digressed, and some of this is completely unrelated your post, although for the purpose of educating and entertaining of inquiring minds, well, maybe it is all relevant.

    Keep your smoker warm & happy!!!

  5. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Stores around here put an absorbent pad under the meat so that the " Package " weight is what the label says it is regardless of purge. If the steaks are on trays in a case, there may be a small amount of shrinkage from evaporation but no way they should lose an ounce or more. Your Butcher or whoever cut steaks that day, is not very experienced as Strip Loins are pretty uniform and any Cutter worth a damn can cut Steaks all day long and they will be no more than a few tenths of variation + or -...JJ
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2014
  6. smokerjim

    smokerjim Meat Mopper

    sorry to jump in here,but here in pa. i'm almost positive even if your selling meat by the piece and not the weight you still have to have the weight on the package,not sure about the other states.
  7. madman mike

    madman mike Smoking Fanatic

    I sell meat to restaurants, whole primal and portioned. We allow for up to 1oz variation in the weight as long as the target portion weight is achieved on an average of 4pc.

    I am assuming they had someone portioning the steak and missed the target weight.
  8. Thanks to all. Very interesting and educational. I just returned from the store about an hour ago. They cut new steaks while the Dept Mgr and I watched and talked. They showed me the weight of each one and, of course, they all weighed more than 8 oz. A customer satisfaction effort I am sure. Before I left, the Mgr suggested that we weigh the original steaks and he found pretty close to the same results that I had. Actually slightly lower weights. Then he weighed a couple from the case and one was slightly over and the other slightly under 8 oz. I think Chef JJ may have correctly diagnosed the problem as the experience or skill of the employee that cut the originals. The Dept Mgr assured me that he would work with his employees to prevent repeat of the issue. He also said he would have all of his scales checked. He said that he could not resell the ones I returned and that he wanted me to take them at no cost for bringing the matter to his attention. Frankly, I couldn't ask for better customer service. I'll be writing a letter to the store Manager later, probably with a few less details since I don't know store policies, to give the Dept Mgr some recognition. Thumbs Up
  9. Sorry can't answer your question but I find that interesting I didn't know they would shrink so much
  10. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    That much shrinkage, 2 oz. would result in a dry dark exterior that would most likely not be purchased unless the steaks are actual dry aged meat. If the meat isn't all bright red and pretty people won't touch it. I was a Deli Manager, right next to the Meat Department, customers are very picky, as is justified with the price of meat being what it is, and the slightest imperfection in any product would be passed over and then discounted. Needless to say the Meat Manager would let me know what was being discounted and I got first shot at picking what I wanted...JJ
  11. Call you're local weights and measures officer.
    Part of their job is making sure this sort of thing doesn't happen.
    Certifying the scales is also their job.

    Last edited: Jun 24, 2014

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