Canada introduces labels for mechanically tenderized beef

Meat_Tenderizing_Canada_blogShoppers in Canada can now easily determine if the beef they are considering for purchase has been mechanically tenderized.

In response to a 2012 outbreak of E. coli associated with mechanically tenderized beef (MTB), the Canadian government mandated the use of labels that clearly indicate MTB, and also include instructions to safely prepare the product.

“There will be a sticker on the package that informs the shopper that is the method by which this meat has been tenderized,” said Canadian Health Minister Rona Ambrose, as quoted by CBC news. “People need to know when they see that it’s also their responsibility to cook that meat all the way through.”

Mechanically tenderizing beef is a common practice in the industry to improve the marketability of tougher cuts of beef. The practice breaks downs the tougher muscle fibers through the use of needles or blades. The risk of mechanically tenderizing beef is that the practice can carry dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli, from the surface of a cut of beef, where it is easily killed in a typical cooking process, to deep within the cut, where it is more difficult to kill.

According to Food Quality News, in May 2013 Health Canada completed a health risk assessment focused on E. coli in MTB, and determined that there is a five-fold increase from MTB products when compared to cuts of beef that have not been mechanically tenderized.

Sylvain Charlebois, who teaches agricultural policies at the University of Guelph, told CBC News that he didn’t think most consumers would be affected by the new labels.

“This added information is certainly helpful for some, but for a majority of consumers I think they just expect their products to be safe in the first place,” he said.

The new labels indicate the beef product has been mechanically tenderized, and recommend cooking to a minimum internal temperature of 63°C (145°F).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also considering mandatory labeling of MTB products. A comment period on the proposed rule ended in 2013, but a final rule has not yet been published.

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