All commercial fresh beef may be divided into two general groups, “fresh chilled” and “fresh frozen.”
Strictly speaking, this grouping is not a part of either classification or grading. It is wholly independent of quality, finish, and conformation, being based entirely on a method of processing or handling for preserving purposes.
Fresh Chilled Beef
Modern meat-packing plants are equipped with large chill or refrigerating rooms which are held at temperatures ranging from approximately 34° to 38° F. In these the carcasses are placed shortly after slaughter to allow the animal heat to escape and the meat to cool and “firm up,” preparatory to shipment or local distribution. After remaining in these rooms from 24 to 36 hours, the meat becomes thoroughly refrigerated, but not frozen. Beef handled in this manner usually is referred to as “chilled.” The grade of the meat, however, is in nowise affected by such refrigeration. In fact, fresh beef may be so held for several weeks without injuring the quality. Ageing or holding beef for four to six weeks or longer under these circumstances renders the flesh of well-finished carcasses more palatable on account of the ripening process that takes place while the beef is held in storage around 36° F. Beef deficient in finish usually will not hold up or retain its soundness or palatability for more than three weeks under ordinary refrigerating conditions.
Fresh Frozen Beef
Most packing and cold-storage plants are also equipped with what are known as “freezers,” which are refrigerating rooms in which the temperature can be lowered to 5° or 10° F.sometimes lower. Meat is placed in these rooms and allowed to remain until it is frozen solid. This requires from 12 to 36 hours, depending upon the character and temperature of the meat when it enters the freezer and the temperature at which the room is held. Heavy carcasses or cuts will naturally re-quire a longer time than light ones. Frozen meat will remain sound and wholesome for an indefinite period, provided it is held below freezing. Before frozen meat can be disposed of at retail and used by the consumer, it must be thawed.
Although freezing in no way affects the grade, so far as the average consumer in the United States is concerned, it vitally affects the meat’s desirability. Most American consumers have a decided prejudice against frozen meat and will accept it only in times of scarcity or at substantial price discounts as compared with fresh chilled meat.
It is estimated that approximately 97 per cent of the fresh beef sold in the United States is “fresh chilled,” whereas the bulk of the fresh beef exported is frozen. The growth of ex-port trade in chilled beef., however, has been very marked during the past 10 years, and the number of ships equipped with refrigeration for carrying chilled beef has increased correspondingly.