Safe Food Coalition welcomes final rule on mechanically tenderized beef

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Requirements will become effective in May 2016
Requirements will become effective in May 2016

Related tags: Mechanically tenderized beef, Foodborne illness, Escherichia coli, Food safety

Members of the Safe Food Coalition have welcomed the final rule to require labeling of mechanically tenderized beef products.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) said consumers and food service facilities will have more information about products they are buying and cooking instructions so they know how to prepare them.

Beef products will have to be identified as mechanically tenderized and the label must include safe cooking instructions.

Instructions will have to specify the minimum internal temperatures and any hold or “dwell” times for the products to ensure they are fully cooked.

Health Canada said all mechanically tenderized beef (MTB) products sold must be clearly labelled and include instructions for safe cooking last year.

Effective from May 2016

Requirements will become effective in May 2016 or one year from publication in the Federal Register.

FSIS is accelerating the effective date instead of waiting until the next Uniform Compliance Date for Food Labeling Regulations, which is January 1, 2018.

The Safe Food Coalition said consumer groups have been urging the USDA to require labeling of mechanically tenderized beef since 2009.

The coalition is made up of the Center for Foodborne Illness, Research and Prevention, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, National Consumers League and STOP Foodborne Illness.

“USDA’s new rule will better protect consumers from foodborne illness by providing them with accurate information about whether the steak they are buying has been mechanically tenderized and how to safely prepare it,”​ said the groups.

Mechanically tenderized beef products (such as steaks and roasts) are pierced by small needles or blades, increasing the risk that pathogens –such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella – on the products surface will be transferred to the interior, they added.

Since mechanically tenderized products look no different than intact products, consumers do not know the product must be cooked to a higher internal temperature to ensure safety.

Mechanically tenderizing beef

To increase tenderness, some cuts of beef are tenderized mechanically by piercing them with needles or small blades to break up tissue. This can introduce pathogens from the surface of the cut to the interior, making proper cooking very important, said the USDA-FSIS. 

Potential presence of pathogens in the interior of these products means they should be cooked differently than intact cuts.

“Labeling mechanically tenderized beef products and including cooking instructions on the package are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products​,” said Deputy Under Secretary Al Almanza.

“This common sense change will lead to safer meals and fewer foodborne illnesses.”

Since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received reports of six outbreaks attributable to needle or blade tenderized beef products.

Failure to thoroughly cook a mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef was a significant contributing factor in each of these outbreaks.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro also applauded the USDA for exempting the mechanically tenderized beef rule (MTB) from the Uniform Labeling Regulation.

“Secretary Vilsack deserves credit for ensuring this rule is finally finished. The serious and urgent health risks associated with consuming mechanically tenderized meats are clear.  

“Labeling MTB products as such will allow consumers to take the necessary steps to prepare their food in a safe manner, hopefully cutting down on foodborne illnesses.”

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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