Here’s the Beef: the North American, fresh, never frozen, always square….Beef!
Editor’s Note: We love all of our products, but none is more important to Wendy’s than our hamburgers. We have a great team dedicated to sourcing the highest quality fresh never frozen North American beef for Wendy’s. We recently took another step in our long-time commitment to sourcing quality beef responsibly by joining the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Their goal is simple – to work together with lots of different stakeholders to sustain responsible beef production for years to come. One of our team members who lives and breathes quality beef every day is also one of our rising stars, Manager of Quality Assurance for Beef, Sarah Wells. Sarah is one of the most upbeat and optimistic people you’ll ever meet. Fortunately, she loves to travel because we keep her on the road all the time. She’s an expert in meat science and animal care, and she taught at the collegiate level before joining Wendy’s two and a half years ago.
Welcome to the blog, Sarah!
As I sat down to draft this blog, I thought about the typical airplane conversations I have when I’m asked by my fellow passenger what I do. Here’s how it typically goes for me. It usually begins like:
Fellow Passenger (FP): Are you traveling for work?
FP: What do you do?
Me: Well, I am a quality assurance manager for Wendy’s, primarily focused on our beef.
FP: What on Earth does that mean?
Me: I’m responsible for ensuring that the beef we serve in the U.S. and Canada is made following our specifications. I spend about half of my time visiting each of the locations where our beef comes from and the remainder of my time addressing customer concerns, monitoring shipping temperatures, reviewing supplier data, and looking for ways to continue improving our product. Essentially, I make sure the fresh beef that we serve our customers is indeed fresh and safe to serve our guests.
For some, that would be the end of the conversation, but there aren’t a lot of people with a job like this, and people want to know about their food, so our earbuds and “airplane mode” devices stay in our laps and the conversation continues. And since I’m passionate about what I do, I’m happy to keep answering questions.
Often the conversation leads to how and where we get our beef.
As you can imagine Wendy’s beef supply chain is very big and it takes a lot of time and effort to make sure we provide our restaurants and our customers with the safest, highest quality beef possible. And because we only use fresh*, never frozen beef in our hamburgers, our beef sourcing is particularly complex.
We can’t keep frozen beef in inventory or ship frozen beef in from overseas like a lot of companies do, so we have to be especially good at managing our beef supply so we always have enough great quality beef to serve our restaurants but not too much to use before it runs out of shelf-life.
To do this we work with a select group of beef companies who share in our commitment to quality.
In order to serve fresh beef safely (see the blog Dennis Hecker wrote a few months ago about serving fresh food) we have to be closely connected with our supply chain. There are really two different levels: those who cut the beef and those who grind the beef and make patties.
It’s really important to us to be connected early in the supply chain so that we are able to have the utmost confidence in our product. With that in mind, we audit the harvest facilities (this is an industry term, but it’s the place where the animals arrive for slaughter) to see that responsible animal care and handling programs are in place and that there is a comprehensive food safety program throughout production. Liliana wrote an early blog about what we believe when it comes to the well-being of the animals that provide our food and she discusses our animal welfare audit practices too.
Even though my colleagues and I are auditing our suppliers regularly on these items, the facilities also carry out their own internal audits many times each week. In fact, they all even hire a third-party auditing company to help ensure things are being done correctly.
Many of these locations are in Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska, although we also have suppliers as far reaching as Washington and Pennsylvania. But the ranchers and cattlemen that feed and raise the cattle before they come to these facilities are all over the U.S. countryside.
Beef ready for grinding (aka beef trimmings) will travel from harvest facilities and get delivered to the plants that make our patties. As the meat gets closer to becoming the iconic square Wendy’s patty, our quality assurance team gets even more involved.
On a quarterly basis, I or someone else from our trained quality assurance team visits each ground beef supplier to calibrate with their personnel and ensure they are following our specifications and also keeping our beef safe. While visiting the plant, my goal is to see them operate and perform our required quality checks.
Throughout every day, our suppliers are making sure our patties are the correct weight, have the right amount of lean and fat, and are packaged in a way to ensure maximal quality by the time it reaches our customers. In addition to the quality parameters, everything goes through a metal detector and is sampled for bacteria.
Providing fresh beef isn’t easy, so it’s clear to see how important it is for us to connect with the people managing all phases of production. It is critical for us to have a working relationship with our suppliers and it is truly a partnership. I have to know and trust everyone we are working with in order to guarantee not only quality, but also a safe and wholesome meal for our customers.
It is amazing to see the level of pride that comes from the team members at these facilities. Some of them have been involved with making Wendy’s patties for more than 20 years!
There is a lot of care and detail that goes into making our signature square hamburger patty. In fact it takes us more than 50 pages to describe the perfect Wendy’s square patty. Want to know some of the secrets of Wendy’s patties?
They have to be made from beef, and only beef. No, there aren’t fillers or additives in our patties. And, it has to be fresh, never frozen beef from North America:
All of the patties in America are made from beef that was cut in America.
And all the Canadian patties are made from beef that was cut in Canada.
Seems logical, right? Well, it’s a major part of my job to make sure all of these expectations are met by our suppliers.
I’ve been told that people don’t know how it’s possible for us to keep beef fresh and never freeze it. So how do we do it? Today, we’re making patties at locations across the country that all together can handle our demand for nearly five million patties a day. With all the benefits of producing beef in locations designed to maintain food safety, we now have to address how to ensure high quality, fresh patties reach our restaurants all over the country. There are a lot of things that help. Here are a few:
- We remove most of the oxygen from the packaging, so bacteria won’t want to grow and then ensure a tight seal to prevent oxygen from getting back in.
- We keep the product cold (without freezing) so bacteria won’t want to grow, and we closely monitor temperatures during shipping.
- We work with the best and most technologically advanced companies in the business.
So that’s the long version of my typical airplane chat. I’m proud of what I do for the Wendy’s family. Hopefully, this makes you and my many acquaintances on the plane feel even better about indulging in a Dave’s Single. And if we end up sitting next to one another on a plane, I look forward to hearing about what you do too!
About Sarah Wells
Growing up on a small farm, Sarah loved working with the livestock her family raised for food. Learning from a young age that “the animals get fed and taken care of before you get to eat breakfast” instilled in Sarah one of many invaluable lessons about animal care. Sarah’s interest in animals continued as she grew older which prompted her to major in Animal Science at The Ohio State University where she worked in the Meat Science Laboratory and focused her courses on the meat science side of things. It was during this time that Sarah found her passion leading her to obtain a Master’s in Animal Science at South Dakota State University. Later, she began working in academics, first at the University of Wisconsin’s Meat Science Department and then on to Michigan State University, where she taught basic meat science and food safety to students and meat processors.
Sarah has had many great opportunities in her career and she is very proud to be a part of what ensures Wendy’s chief value: Quality is Our Recipe.
*Fresh beef available in the contiguous U.S., Canada, and Alaska.