A proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to label mechanically tenderized beef products is now under extended review at the White House Office of Management and Budget. Food safety advocates, the meat industry and FSIS said they do not know details about the status of the review or when the rule might be released.
Consumer advocates, including Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), have long called for labeling tenderized meat so consumers know, when cooking at home or ordering at it a restaurant, that the product should be prepared differently from whole, non-tenderized cuts. FSIS currently recommends a whole cut steak be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees. But because the tenderization process can introduce bacteria into the center of a non-intact steak, FSIS recommends that these cuts hit 160 degrees, just like hamburger.
In September, FSIS proposed a rule that would require meat companies to label raw products as “mechanically tenderized” if they are needle- or blade-tenderized, or as injected with marinade or solution (unless the products are destined to be fully cooked at an official establishment). The rule was submitted to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), where it has now been under review for more than three months.
It is normal for OIRA to review regulations, but the agency is supposed to complete such a review within 30 to 90 days. Lately, however, rules have taken much longer to clear the administration. For example, OIRA recently took more than a year to review two major Food Safety Modernization Act rules, on produce safety and preventive controls, and there are still three rules under consideration that have yet to be released.
The labeling proposal is the only FSIS regulation under review, but there are five other USDA-proposed rules currently at OIRA. It is the agency’s longstanding policy to not comment on proposals under review, according to an OMB spokesman.
“We haven’t heard anything,” said Laura Trivers, a spokeswoman for the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, which has advocated for labeling tenderized meats. “I know they’ve been busy. [The FSMA rules] took a lot of time and a lot of work. Hopefully, the mechanically tenderized meat rule will be forthcoming.”
American Meat Institute spokesman Eric Mittenthal said that AMI would wait until the rule comes out to comment, but said AMI was aware the review was extended in December. FSIS officials told Food Safety News the agency had no information other than what is posted on OMB’s website.
According to the OMB’s regulatory dashboard, the rule under review would require that labels on raw and partially cooked needle or blade tenderized beef products produced for for household consumers, hotels, restaurants, etc, include “validated cooking instructions that inform consumers that these products need to be cooked to a specified minimum internal temperature, and whether they need to be held at that minimum internal temperature for a specified time before consumption, i.e., dwell time or rest time, to ensure that they are thoroughly cooked.”
It is not known what percentage of beef products are mechanically tenderized, or exactly how much of it is sold to consumers versus food service companies. As noted in a recent expose by the Kansas City Star, the majority of beef producers use the process, producing an estimated 50 million pounds of mechanically tenderized product each month.© Food Safety News