USDA Restaurant Rules & Regulations

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Restaurants have to follow the USDA's regulations for acceptable grades of meat and proper handling. In this lesson, we will discuss the different grades of fruits, vegetables, and meats as well as safe handling processes.


The USDA is an acronym for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This federal department deals with the farming industry as a whole. They work with assessing qualities of meat, fruits, and vegetables, and they also work with farmers to make sure their land is suitable, and that farmers are receiving subsidies as needed to make sure they stay in business.

The USDA has many programs set up to assess all the food that we eat in its raw form. They have certified meat programs, institutional meat specifications, and even a USDA tenderness program. Each program is set to review and assess all different aspects of a product to make sure it's safe for your consumption.

Fruit and Vegetable Grades

Each fresh vegetable has its own set of standards. We will look at a standard set of guidelines for fresh vegetables since they all are fairly similar.

Fresh Vegetables

Chili Peppers

  • US Number 3 - The vegetable must be similar as other vegetables in the same category, can have odd shapes, but must be clean. There can be sun damage but cannot be too damaged from other things.
  • US Number 2 - The vegetable must meet the quality from number 3 but also must not be too misshapen and cannot be sun damaged either. Can be slightly damaged by other causes.
  • US Number 1 - This vegetable must not be damaged by anything, nature or physical, and must be shaped as the vegetable should be shaped.

Beef Quality Grades

There are several different grades of meat according to the USDA. They are listed and sectioned by type:


  • USDA Select - This is the lowest grade of meat, usually less juicy, and least amount of marbled fat.
  • USDA Choice - This grade of meat has more marbling of fat, which creates more juiciness.
  • USDA Prime - This grade of meat is the best and has a large amount of marbled fat distributed amongst the meat.
  • USDA Certified Tender - This grade is only attributed to certain pieces of the cow, or cuts, that are specifically tender, like filet mignon.


  • C Quality - The meat of the bird does not have to cover all bones, can be thin looking. The bones can be damaged and show through into the flesh of the poultry. The bird can have 8-12 feathers showing on the skin, and the skin does not have to be uniform. The bird can have significant discoloration and damage as long as it does not make the meat unable to be consumed.
  • B Quality - The poultry can have damaged bones and carcasses but only if it does not affect the placement and shape of the meat. The meat must cover all the bones to at least make sure it does not look thin in any area. Can have 3-4 feathers left on the poultry, and the skin mostly covers every piece of flesh, only up to a 1/3 can be showing. Slight clotting is permissible, and other discoloration is fine as long as it is minor.
  • A Quality - Lack of deformities, except for slight bone damage. All the meat must be fleshy and full and have no blood clots. Only 2-3 feathers should be left on the poultry, and there needs to be a lot of skin covering the meat, but no excess fat. There can be slight damage, like a cut, but it must be small: 1/4 of an inch to 1/2 inch depending on the size of the bird. Other issues allowed but only in small amounts, like freezer damage, a slight change in skin color, and pockmarks.

Safe Handling Instructions For Meat & Fish

There are different instructions for each type of meat. Here are the three most popular:

Porterhouse Steak


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