Here at Blooms, we are always asked why we don’t sell chilled beef like the local large chain supermarket. We wanted to put together a short write-up to help explain some of the realities of beef and steaks sold in T&T.
We know quite a bit about chilled beef. Mainly because most (if not all) of the product we buy is chilled before we ask our suppliers to blast freeze it for shipping. Our ribeyes, for example are pre-purchased and then ‘aged’ for up to 21 days to ensure they have the tenderness, texture and flavor our customers have come to expect. Letting chilled meat rest properly requires a huge amount of space and perfectly controlled chiller rooms. Beef must be chilled and never frozen to accomplish this prior to processing. It’s also important that the environment in which this meat is handled is incredibly sanitary. After they are processed in these ultra-hygienic rooms, they are vacuum sealed to remove all the air from around the steak, sealing in the flavor and keeping out the bad stuff. We then have our manufacturers immediately blast freeze them to ensure they arrive to us and to you in perfect condition.
How does the large chain supermarket sell their steaks frozen?
There is a trick played by many large supermarkets (especially in Trinidad) in order to market ‘chilled’ and ‘fresh’ steak. However, the steak may be chilled but it’s not techincally fresh. Most of the ‘fresh’ beef sold in supermarkets in Trinidad is actually frozen beef that has been ‘slacked-out’ or defrosted to be cut into steaks and packaged.
This means that meat is purchased frozen, kept frozen and then defrosted to cut and sell to the consumer chilled. This gives the illusion of the meat being fresh and saves the retailer A LOT of money on chiller rooms and a proper fresh meat rotation system. Normally, professional steak processors have advanced inventory, temperature and packaging systems that control this. All of our’s do, at least. In reality, the ‘freshly cut steaks’ you find in the meat section of the grocery are purchased in whole loin format, shipped in once every few months and then defrosted as it’s needed. Buying frozen product that can’t be used for steaks like our’s usually comes out cheaper than buying fresh/unfrozen product.
If you doubt this, ask your local large chain grocery where they are holding their ‘fresh’ product, where their beef chiller is, are they getting in fresh product weekly and if they are rotating their fresh stock of Ribeye properly? No one in the store will have an idea what you are talking about. The meat comes in frozen and they defrost it in the back before they cut it and put it into trays to be film wrapped. It then sits in the chiller until it sells or spoils.
“Isn’t this dangerous?” Well, not really. It’s just the same as if you were to defrost a steak and put it in your fridge to eat a few days later. People defrost our steaks every day. It does, however, speed up the spoilage of the product quite a bit, especially if the steaks are tray packed and not vacuum sealed. If a steak has already been packed fresh, chilled, frozen, shipped, defrosted, opened, cut into steaks, placed into trays and then chilled on the shelf, you have doubled (if not tripled) the amount of times that product has been handled and has touched open air. The more times you handle meat and the more times it is exposed to air, the more bacteria and the faster is breaksdown and spoils. You may notice in the grocery that most of the steaks usually have a green/brown color spreading on the surface. These steaks are now towards the end of their useful life. When this happens, some grocers will grind that product to try to get a few more days to sell it. This is where the fresh ground beef may be coming from.
This defrosting/cutting of previously frozen meat also has a big negative impact if the customer decides they need to freeze the steak after they buy it and get it home. “Slacked-out” beef won’t be good for long, so they must be eaten or frozen quickly. If you need to freeze that product, it’s going to take down the quality quite a bit. Remember, that the steak has already been frozen, and freezing it again will break down the tissues as water in the product, expanding and breaking down additional cells. It makes no sense paying for a premium beef product if it’s going to be frozen twice. When that product is then defrosted AGAIN, it will have a incredibly short shelf life.
While the allure of ‘fresh/chilled’ meats is a good one, make sure you are only buying products that are processed properly. In highly sanitary conditions and with raw materials that have been treated properly. Here at Blooms, our steak program and our chain of supply insure that your products are safe and of the utmost quality. At this time, selling our steaks vacuum sealed and frozen is the best way to do that.
Hopefully this provides a little bit of insight into your local meat industry and has provided you with a few things to keep in mind when purchasing meats in Trinidad. Especially those being marketed as ‘fresh’.