This month, the BEEF Taste Test panel critiqued its third irradiated ground beef product — Fairview Farms® 100% Pure Ground Beef. Currently being test marketed in select Kroger stores, this Excel product differs from other irradiated products we've tested in that it is a fresh — rather than frozen — ground beef product.

BEEF Taste Test panelists proclaimed it a clear winner, giving it an overall score of 9 (on a 10-point scale). That places it well ahead of the two other irradiated products tested. These include Schwan's Ground Beef Chuck Burgers (8.72) and Huisken Premium Brand Beef Patties (7.8). Both were critiqued in our December 2000 issue of BEEF.

All three products utilize the SureBeam® electronic pasteurization process. The technology uses high-energy electrons and X-rays to remove in seconds the threat of food-borne pathogens such as E. coli 0157:H7, salmonella, listeria and Campylobacter jejuni.

In fact, the 9 rating places the Excel product in a tie for second among the 22 products tested in our BEEF Taste Test series. Number one is Farmland® Ground & Browned” Fully Cooked Ground Seasoned Beef, which scored a 9.1 in October 2001. Second is shared by Bubba Burger” With Vidalia Onion, a frozen hamburger patty critiqued in May 2001.

Fairview Farms' product is a four-serving, 16-oz. plastic sleeve of fresh ground beef. At $1.69, it was deemed competitive with non-irradiated product.

“It tastes fresh and it's very flavorful,” said one panelist. “Best irradiated product I've tasted,” said another long-term panelist.

“A great value. Congratulations to Excel for stepping forward into the future,” said one, while still another proclaimed the product “a real winner. It has great texture and is very juicy.”

The product drew consistently high scores in the major categories of packaging, convenience and sensory factors. In fact, the Excel product's lackluster packaging was the only widespread criticism.

“The packaging isn't attractive. It looks like a tube of pork sausage,” said one.

In all other categories, however, the product performed no less than a 4.3 (5-point scale). Its highest marks came in the sensory factors.

“Even without seasoning this product, it's got just great taste,” said one panelist. Another marveled that a product with such taste and safety factors sold for a price comparable to non-pasteurized product.

In panelists' eyes, Excel clearly deserves hearty praise for its Fairview Farms 100% Pure Ground Beef product. While not a true “convenience” product in the genre of other pre-cooked products tested in our series, it truly delivers great taste, safety and value.