FSIS releases mechanically tenderized beef labeling rule

Just in time for the summer grilling season, new labeling requirements for mechanically tenderized beef roasts and steaks went into effect earlier this week and aim to make meat prepared in this fashion safer for consumers to eat.

Under this rule, these products (about 6.2 billion servings annually) must bear labels that state that they have been mechanically, blade or needle tenderized. The labels must also include validated cooking instructions so that consumers know how to safely prepare them. The instructions will have to specify the minimum internal temperatures and any hold or “dwell” times for the products to ensure that they are fully cooked.

According to one article, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken reports since 2000 about illnesses that can occur when pathogens are pushed into the center of a beef cut from the surface when needle or mechanical tenderization is used. Demands for the label information grew in response to a 2009 National Steak and Poultry recall of 240,000 pounds of steaks for E. coli O157:H7 contamination. In early 2010, the meat was associated with 19 E. coli illnesses in 16 states.

Labeling technically tenderized beef products and including cooking instructions on their packaging are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products, Al Almanza, USDA’s undersecretary for food safety, said. “This common sense change will leaded to safer meats and fewer foodborne illnesses.”

FSIS recommends both tenderized and whole cuts of beef be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F.

“These products, like all whole cuts of beef, should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source,” an FSIS spokeswoman said in the article. “For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes after it has been removed from the heat source before carving or consuming. During this rest time, the internal temperature is either constant or slightly rises to destroy pathogens.”

The mechanically tenderized beef rule is aimed at home cooks, restaurants and other food service operations. Notice is not required on restaurant menus, however.

According to CDC data, the 2009-10 National Steak E. coli outbreak is one of six outbreaks involving needle or blade tenderized beef. FSIS reported such tenderization is a common practice because it improves tenderness of less expensive cuts of meat. Chain restaurants that offer affordable steaks are big users of needle and/or mechanical tenderization.

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