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Labelling requirements for meat and poultry products
Grade names

General requirements for graded carcasses

Please note that all references to the "Compendium" in this section refer to the Canadian Grade Compendium, which is prepared and published by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The Beef, Bison and Veal Carcass Grade Requirements – PDF (260 kb), prepared and published by the Canadian Beef Grading Agency, will be referred to as the "Grades Document" for the purpose of this guidance.

In addition to the Grades Document which details the grade names (definition) and requirements for beef, bison and veal carcasses, Volume 1 of the Compendium includes grade names and requirements for ovine and poultry carcasses. Volume 9 of the Compendium specifies import grade requirements for livestock carcasses (definition) and poultry carcasses (definition).

Grading is optional for bison, ovine or veal carcasses, as well as dressed or partially dressed poultry carcasses. However, if these are graded and labelled with the applicable grade name, the grade requirements set out in Volume 1 of the Compendium or the Beef, Bison and Veal Carcass Grade Requirements – PDF (260 kb), as applicable, must be adhered to when interprovincially traded, imported or exported [307(c) and (d), SFCR].

Beef carcasses that are interprovincially traded, imported or exported must be graded, must meet the grade requirements and be labelled with the applicable grade name in accordance with the Beef, Bison and Veal Carcass Grade Requirements – PDF (260 kb). Despite this grading requirement, beef carcasses may be ungraded when labelled with the words "Ungraded Beef" / "boeuf non classifié" or "boeuf non classé" [204, 306(1), 306(2)(e) and (f), SFCR].  For details, refer to requirements specific to "beef carcasses" within the livestock carcasses section.

The particular conditions for grading that must be met for a grader (definition) to grade a livestock carcass are outlined in section 334 to 337 of the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR), while those applicable to a dressed or partially dressed poultry carcass are outlined in section 338 of the SFCR.

Licence holders may apply a grade name to and use a grade name in connection with a livestock carcass or a dressed or partially dressed poultry carcass that is identified in their licence if the carcass has been graded by a grader (definition), in addition to meeting other prescribed conditions [308(1)(b), (c), (e) and (f), SFCR]. In the case of a dressed or partially dressed poultry carcass, this includes complying with the standards set out in the Canadian Standards of Identity, Volume 7 – Meat Products. For more information on general requirements, refer to the Grades page of the Industry Labelling Tool.

Volume 9 of the Compendium outlines the import grade requirements. Item 53 of the Table of import grade names for imported food specifies the Canadian and import grade names for poultry carcasses. If imported poultry carcasses meet the requirements of the Compendium for the applicable Canadian grade name in column 2 of the table, they must be labelled with the corresponding import grade name in column 3 [1(1), Compendium, Volume 9 – Import Grade Requirements]. The import grade names for imported poultry carcasses are GRADE A, GRADE C and GRADE UTILITY UTILITÉ.

There are no import grade names for beef carcasses (or a complete side, hind quarter, front quarter, primal cut (definition) or sub-primal cut (definition), bison, veal and ovine carcasses, as indicated in items 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Table of imported foods without import grade names. When these are imported from a country that has a grade designation having requirements that are substantially equivalent to requirements for a Canadian grade name in Column 2 of the table, they must be labelled with that foreign grade designation rather than with the Canadian grade name [2(1), Compendium, Volume 9 – Import Grade Requirements].

When a grade name is applied to a beef carcass, bison carcass, ovine carcass, veal carcass, poultry carcass that is dressed or partially dressed, the grade name must be shown as illustrated in the Grades Document or the Compendium [313, SFCR]. For more information, refer to livestock carcasses and poultry carcasses below.

When a grade name is applied to a consumer prepackaged poultry carcass or livestock carcass (including a complete side, hind quarter, front quarter, primal cut or sub-primal cut of a beef carcass), the grade name must be shown on the principal display panel or in the manner set out in the Compendium [312(a), SFCR].

Specific type size requirements exist for the grade name on consumer prepackaged poultry carcasses. Refer to poultry carcasses below for details.

For consumer prepackaged livestock carcasses, the grade name must be declared in characters of at least the minimum height that is set out in the following table, which varies according to area of the principal display surface [312(b), Schedule 6, SFCR].

Minimum character height for grade names on consumer prepackaged livestock carcasses
Item Area of principal display surface Minimum character height
1 ≤ 32 cm2 (5 inches2) 1.6 mm (1/16 inch)
2 > 32 cm2 (5 inches2) but ≤ 258 cm2 (40 inches2) 3.2 mm (1/8 inch)
3 > 258 cm2 (40 inches2) but ≤ 645 cm2 (100 inches2) 6.4 mm (1/4 inch)
4 > 645 cm2 (100 inches2) but ≤ 2 580 cm2 (400 inches2) 9.5 mm (3/8 inch)
5 > 2 580 cm2 (400 inches2) 12.7 mm (1/2 inch)

Please note that grade names satisfy the bilingual labelling requirement for mandatory information appearing on consumer prepackaged food since most are already bilingual (for example, Canada A, Canada B1, Canada C2) or, if not, are in both official languages when shown within the grade stamp (definition) as illustrated in the Compendium or Grades Document (for example, the grade name CANADA UTILITY UTILITÉ for poultry carcasses).

Livestock carcasses

Grades for livestock carcasses are applicable to beef, bison, veal and ovine carcasses. In addition to what is outlined below, additional requirements exist for beef carcasses.

A grade name that is applied to a beef carcass, bison carcass, ovine carcass or veal carcass must be shown as illustrated in the Beef, Bison and Veal Carcass Grade Requirements – PDF (260 kb) or Volume 1 of the Compendium within the applicable grade stamp (definition) reproduced below [313, SFCR].  

Beef grade stamp
Description follows
Description for beef grade stamp

The beef grade stamp has the outline of a Canadian maple leaf. Centered towards the top of the emblem is the word "Canada". Centered in the middle of the emblem is the letter grade assigned to the carcass, "AAA". The grade name, "Canada AAA", is in blocked capital letters. Centered inside the bottom of the leaf outline, just above the leaf stem, is the grade stamp code. Despite being illustrated in black, the beef grade stamp must appear in red ink on the graded beef carcass.

Veal grade stamp
Description follows
Description for veal grade stamp

The veal grade stamp has the outline of a triangle with all sides 5 cm, pointing downwards. The grade name, for example, "Canada A2", would be situated in blocked capital letters centered at the top of the triangle. The grade stamp code would be centered inside near the tip of the triangle. Despite being shown in black, the veal grade stamp must appear in red ink when marked on a graded veal carcass.

Bison grade stamp
Description follows
Description for bison grade stamp

The bison grade stamp is a 2.5 cm square outline with double borders. The grade name appears in the top left corner of the square in blocked capital letters. The number for the grade stamp code is to appear in the bottom right corner of the outline. Despite being shown in black, the bison grade stamp must appear in purple ink when marked on a graded bison carcass.

Ovine grade stamp
Description follows
Description for ovine grade stamp

The ovine grade stamp has the outline of a Canadian maple leaf. Centered towards the top of the emblem is the word "Canada". Centered in the middle of the emblem is the letter grade assigned to the carcass, "AAA". The grade name, "Canada AAA", is in blocked capital letters. Centered inside the bottom of the leaf outline, just above the stem, is the grade stamp code. Despite being shown in black, the ovine grade stamp must appear in red ink when marked on a graded ovine carcass.

A grade stamp must appear in red ink when marked on graded beef, veal and ovine carcasses, and in purple ink on a graded bison carcass [2.1(1), 2.2, 2.3, Grades Document; 4(1), Compendium, Volume 1 – Ovine Carcasses and Poultry Carcasses].

A grade stamp, roller brand (definition) (in the case of beef) or yield stamp (definition) (in the case of beef and lamb) must not be removed from a livestock carcass or primal cut unless the removal is at the direction of and under the supervision of a grader, or when these are being trimmed for further processing [328(1), SFCR].

If fat that is marked with a grade stamp, roller brand or yield stamp is removed from a livestock carcass or primal cut, the fat must be disposed of under a grader's supervision, unless the fat is reapplied to the same livestock carcass or primal cut from which it was removed. Applying the fat to another livestock carcass or primal cut bearing the same grade stamp, roller brand or yield stamp is also acceptable provided this is done under the supervision of a grader. If applied to another beef carcass graded Canada A, Canada AA, Canada AAA or Canada Prime, the fat must be applied to the rib of the carcass [328, SFCR].

An additional mark may be shown on a livestock carcass or primal cut that bears a grade stamp, roller brand or yield stamp provided:

  • the additional mark does not appear more than once on the carcass or on each primal cut
  • the additional mark is shown alone or in combination with a date
  • the additional mark, or the additional mark and date in combination, does not exceed 76 mm in height and in width
  • the additional mark, along with any accompanying date, does not touch the grade stamp, roller brand or yield stamp [329, SFCR]

Beef carcasses

There are 13 grade names established for beef carcasses: Canada A, Canada AA, Canada AAA, Canada Prime, Canada B1, Canada B2, Canada B3, Canada B4, Canada D1, Canada D2, Canada D3, Canada D4, Canada E [3.0(1), Beef, Bison and Veal Carcass Grade Requirements – PDF (260 kb)].

Please note that a cut from a Canada AAA beef carcass that is exported in a container (for example,, prepackaged) may alternatively be labelled with the expression "Canada Choice" or "Choix Canada" [327, SFCR].

Despite the mandatory grading requirement for beef carcasses, a prepackaged beef carcass, or a complete side, hind quarter, front quarter, primal cut (definition) or sub-primal cut (definition) of a beef carcass may be ungraded provided its container is labelled with the words "Ungraded Beef" / "boeuf non classifié" or "boeuf non classé". If it is not prepackaged, appropriate documentation showing that it was not graded must accompany the shipment for presentation to an inspector or a grader [204, 306(2)(e) and (f), SFCR].

When interprovincially traded, a graded beef carcass or a complete side, hind quarter, front quarter, primal cut or sub-primal cut that is not prepackaged is not required to bear a grade name if accompanied by documentation for presentation to an inspector or grader that shows its grade name. In the case of imports, the documentation must show the foreign grade designation and the beef carcass must be labelled in accordance with the requirements of the country of origin with respect to grades [306(4)(d) and (e), SFCR].

The grade name that is applied to a prepackaged primal cut or sub-primal cut of a beef carcass must correspond to the grade of the beef carcass from which it is cut [326, SFCR].

Containers of mixed grades of beef cuts

The mixing of beef cuts of different grades within a container is permitted as follows:

  • Canadian beef graded Canada A, Canada AA and Canada AAA may be mixed provided the container is marked with a single grade name corresponding to the lowest grade quality followed by the expression "or higher" / "ou plus" to imply that there may be some cuts derived from higher grades of beef in a container so marked. Example: "Canada A or higher"
  • Canadian beef graded any of the Canada B or Canada D grades or the Canada E grade may be mixed provided the specific grade names of the product are marked on the container. Example: "Canada B2 / Canada B3 / Canada D3/ Canada E"
  • Canadian beef graded in the A grades shall not be mixed with non A grade product or ungraded product and be identified by grade name. For example, the marking of a container "Canada A / Canada AA / Canada B2" is not permitted
  • containers of ungraded product must be marked with the words "Ungraded Beef" / "boeuf non classifié" or "boeuf non classé". Should anyone wish to mix graded and ungraded product, the containers must be marked as ungraded
  • imported beef may also be mixed for different grades provided the specific grade names for the product are marked on the container

Note: The licence holder of an establishment is responsible for the accuracy of grade labelling. When repackaging cuts that originate from a mixed-grade container, these cuts may be marked with a specific grade only if each original cut was individually marked with a grade and the grade can be verified. Example: A mixed-grade container marked "Canada B2 / Canada D3" contains mixed cuts on which the grade "Canada B2" or "Canada D3" has been directly stamped to a carcass. In this case, the grade of a cut is easily identifiable and verifiable. Therefore, the derived cuts can be marked accordingly with the grade "Canada B2" or "Canada D3".

Retail beef cuts

Since beef grades do not apply to individual beef cuts prepackaged by the retailer for retail sale, labels or advertisements for retail cuts may only include an indication of the grade of the carcass (or complete side, hind quarter, front quarter, primal cut or sub-primal cut) from which the retail cut was derived (for example, the label or advertisement should include words such as "Cut from" or other appropriate words that do not give the impression that the retail cut was graded when indicating the carcass grade). Additionally, grade names must be reproduced in full. An appropriate reference would be "Cut from Canada AA Beef".

When retail beef cuts are derived from carcasses of:

  • one specific grade only, the label or advertisement declaration must make reference to that specific grade only (for example, "Cut from Canada AA" or "Cut from USDA Choice")
  • more than one grade, the label or advertisement declaration must make reference to the lowest grade involved plus the words "or higher" (for example, "Cut from Canada A or higher", or "Cut from USDA Select or higher")

Former grade information declarations on retail packages or in advertising such as "Cut from Canada A/AA", "Cut from Canada A/AA/AAA" and "Cut from Canada A Grades" are no longer acceptable.

Grade names that do not include the name of the country that established the grade must be accompanied by a declaration of the country of origin. For example, while "A" is an Australian grade, the appropriate retail declaration would be "Cut from Australian A Grade".

Poultry carcasses

There are 3 grade names for poultry carcasses set out in Part 3 of Volume 1 of the Compendium:  Canada A, Canada Utility, Canada C [10, Compendium, Volume 1 – Ovine Carcasses and Poultry Carcasses].

The labelling requirements associated with the grade name apply only to dressed or partially dressed poultry carcasses (for example, wrapped, fresh or vacuum-packed frozen, whole poultry) and not to individual cuts.

When applied to a poultry carcass that is dressed or partially dressed, the grade name must be shown as illustrated in Schedule 5 of the Compendium within the poultry carcass grade stamp [313, SFCR]. As an example, the grade stamp for the Canada Utility grade is reproduced below:

Poultry grade stamp
Description follows
Description for poultry grade stamp

The poultry grade stamp has the outline of a Canadian maple leaf. Centered in the middle of the emblem, is the grade name, "Canada Utility", and the French equivalent, "Utilité". Each word is on a separate line in blocked capital letters.

The grade name of a dressed or partially dressed poultry carcass must be shown in white letters within the outline of a maple leaf. The colour of the maple leaf outline depends on the grade of the carcass [11(1), Compendium, Volume 1 – Ovine Carcasses and Poultry Carcasses]:

  • red, if the poultry is graded Canada A
  • blue, if the poultry is graded Canada Utility, and
  • brown, if the poultry is graded Canada C

When the poultry carcass is prepackaged other than consumer prepackaged [11(2), Compendium, Volume 1 – Ovine Carcasses and Poultry Carcasses],

  • the grade name may be shown in black letters instead of white
  • the grade name is not required to be shown within the outline of a maple leaf
  • the outline of the maple leaf may be the same colour as required above according to the grade or may be black 

In the case of a poultry carcass that is individually packaged, the grade name must appear on the part of the package that is on or over the anterior centre of the breast, whereas when not individually packaged, the grade name must be on the tag attached to the V of the wishbone [330(1), SFCR].

The minimum size of the characters in the grade name is dependent upon the grade, weight and packaging of the poultry carcass [330(2), SFCR]. Type size requirements for the grade name on consumer prepackaged poultry carcasses are summarized in the table below [330(2)(b) to (f), SFCR].

Minimum size of characters in grade name for consumer prepackaged poultry carcasses
  Minimum type size Minimum type size Minimum type size
Net weight of poultry carcass Canada A Canada C Canada Utility
≤ 1 kg 3 mm 3 mm 3 mm
> 1 kg to ≤ 5 kg 6 mm 6 mm 3 mm
> 5 kg 9 mm 9 mm 5 mm

For prepackaged other than consumer prepackaged poultry carcasses, the grade name must be in characters at least 6 mm in height [330(2)(g), SFCR]. In the case of a poultry carcass that is not individually packaged or is in a container labelled "not for further processing" or "aucune transformation ultérieure" and individually wrapped, the grade name must be in characters at least 1.5 mm in height [330(2)(a), SFCR].

Only graded poultry carcasses that are dressed or partially dressed and that have the same common name may be packaged together [331, SFCR]. For example, it would not be permitted to put a graded mature guinea carcass in the same container as a mature duck carcass, even if they share the same grade.

Advertising

Generally, anyone is authorized to use a grade name in the advertising or sale of graded livestock or poultry carcass provided it is labelled with the grade name in accordance with the SFCR [311, SFCR].

There are requirements surrounding the use of grades in advertising for some types of meat. Refer to Advertisements for bulk beef, veal, pork and lamb for more information.

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