What Are The Differences?

The inspection and grading of meat and poultry are two separate programs within the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).  Inspection for wholesomeness is mandatory and is paid for out of taxpayers dollars.

Grading for quality is voluntary and the service is requested and paid for by meat and poultry producers/processors to the Canadian Beef Grading Agency.

All boxes or carcasses containing this stamp meet Canadian requirements for food safety and also applies to the products imported into Canada. The stamp will also have a number listed on the bottom that refers to the plant at which the product was processed.

At federally registered establishments, inspection and safety of meat and meat products is the responsibility of Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  Inspection at these plants is mandatory before any inter-provincial trade or export of meat is possible.

At these federally registered facilities, random tests for residues in meat are taken. Over the past few years, results from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency showed beef consistently in 99.7% compliance or higher for the substances monitored. Any carcass or organs that do not meet the government's high standards are condemned and destroyed. These rigorous inspection procedures are a means of ensuring only wholesome foods end up in the hands of the consumer.

Imported meat products are allowed only from countries that have been approved by the Canadian government. These products must be inspected at a registered establishment in Canada before they are made available for sale to Canadian consumers.

Provincially inspected meat may only be distributed within the province of inspection. Depending on the province, meat inspection is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health or Agriculture.


It is important to understand the Canadian Beef Grades and their criteria so you can make informed decisions as a beef buyer. Grading groups beef of similar quality, yield and value, into a grade category for product consistency.

The Canada "A" grades (Canada Prime, Canada AAA, Canada AA, and Canada A) differ by the amount of marbling in the meat: Canada Prime having the most marbling and Canada A having the least.

Marbling refers to the fine white streaks of fat running through the lean beef. Marbling enhances the eating quality of beef by increasing tenderness, juiciness and flavour.

Grading is delivered by an independent third party, the Canadian Beef Grading Agency on a fee-for-service basis. Grading for quality means evaluation of traits related to tenderness, juiciness, and for flavour of meat. For poultry, it is a normal shape that is fully fleshed, meaty, and free of defects.

The beef grade standards are set by the Federal Government based on recommendations from the Canadian beef industry.

The vast majority of beef used at retail and foodservice is graded product that falls into the Canada A or higher grades.

Grading refers to eating quality and unlike inspection; beef grading is a completely voluntary system in Canada. Once beef has been inspected and meets the Canadian food safety standards, it can be graded for its eating quality.

Canada A or higher grades must meet the following criteria;

• Youthful animals - scientific research has shown that younger animals produce more tender beef.
• Meat colour must be bright red, the muscles firm and the meat fine grained - not only is consumer acceptability of the product influenced by these criteria, but they also have an influence on aging, cooking and eating quality.
• Well-developed muscles - insisting on well-developed muscling aids in product consistency. This type of criteria eliminates dairy type cattle from Canada's 'A' grades.
• White and firm fat - although this item focuses on consumer acceptance, fat texture influences cooking results and flavour.


- is produced from young naturally raised beef cattle. It has abundant marbling and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for dry heat cooking (i.e., roasting, broiling, and grilling).

- is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. Choice roasts and steaks from the loin and rib will be very tender, juicy, flavourful and like Prime, suited to dry heat cooking.

- is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender but because is has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavour of the higher grades. Only the tender cuts (loin, rib, sirloin) should be cooked with dry heat. Other cuts should be marinated before cooking or cooked with moisture to obtain tenderness and flavour.



- are juicier and more flavourful than the lower grades. Because of the young age of the animals, the meat will be a light grayish-pink to light pink, fairly firm and velvety. The bones are small, soft and quite red. Cuts such as chops can be cooked by the dry heat method of grilling or broiling.



Lamb is produced from animals less than a year old.

- is very high in tenderness, juiciness and flavour. Its marbling enhances both flavour and juiciness.

- has slightly less marbling than prime, but still is of very high quality. Most cuts of prime and AAA grade lamb (chops, roasts, shoulder cuts and leg) are tender and can be cooked by the dry heat methods (broiling, roasting or grilling). The less tender cuts – breast, driblets, neck and shank – can be cooked slowly by the moist heat method (braising) to make them tenderer.


Pork is not graded with quality grades as it is generally produced from young animals that have been bred and fed to produce more uniformly tender meat. Appearance is an important guide in buying fresh pork. Look for cuts with a relatively small amount of fat over the outside and with meat that is firm and grayish pink in colour. For best flavour and tenderness, meat should have a small amount of marbling. Pork’s consistency makes it suitable for a variety of cooking styles. Chops can be prepared by pan broiling, grilling, baking, braising or sautéing. Ribs can be braised, roasted or grilled. Slow cooking yields the most tender and flavourful results. Tenderloins are considered to be the most tender and tasty cut of pork.


- is the highest quality and the only grade that is likely to be seen at the retail level. This grade indicates that the poultry products are virtually free from defects such as bruises, discolourations and feathers. Bone In products have no broken bones. For whole birds and parts with the skin on, there are no tears in the skin or exposed flesh that could dry out during cooking and there is a good covering of fat under the skin. Also, whole birds and parts will be fully fleshed and meaty.


All content copyright 2008 - 414 Clendenan Avenue, Toronto Ontario, M6P 2X6, 416-826-4446 - Website by