In the United States, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) operates a voluntary beef grading program. The meat processor pays for a trained AMS meat grader to grade whole carcasses at the abattoir Users are required to comply with Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) grade labeling procedures. The official USDA grade designation can appear in one or any combination of the following ways: container markings, individual bags, legible roller brand appearing on the meat itself, or by a USDA shield stamp that incorporates the quality and/or yield grade.
There are eight beef quality grades. The grades are based on two main criteria: the degree of marbling (intramuscular fat) in the beef, and the maturity (estimated age of the animal at slaughter). Some meat scientists object to the current scheme of USDA grading since it is not based on direct measurement of tenderness, although marbling and maturity are indicators of tenderness. Most other countries' beef grading systems mirror the US model. Most beef offered for sale in supermarkets is graded US Choice or Select. US Prime beef is sold to hotels and upscale restaurants. Beef that would rate as US Standard or less is almost never offered for grading.