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UPDATED: New labels, instructions for tenderized beef roll out today

UPDATE: Additional cooking instructions provided by FSIS after this story was posted.

The 6.2 billion servings of mechanically tenderized beef roasts and steaks consumed annually by Americans might be a little safer because of labeling requirements that take effect today, just ahead of the summer grilling season.

They’ve been coming for a long time. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken reports since 2000 about illnesses that sometimes occur when pathogens are pushed into the center of a beef cut from the surface when needle or mechanical tenderization is used.

mechanical-tenderizer_406x250According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), starting today meat processors are required to disclose on labels whether meat has been through the commonly used process. The labels also must provide safe cooking instructions that inform consumers that tenderized cuts should be cooked more thoroughly than intact cuts.

Demands for the label information grew in response to the Christmas Eve 2009 National Steak and Poultry recall of 240,000 pounds of steaks for E. coil O157: H7 contamination. In early 2010 the meat was associated with 19 E. coli illnesses in 16 states.

National Steak supplied mechanically tenderized steaks to such popular chains as Moe’s Southwest Grill, Carino’s Italian Grill and KRM restaurants.

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

Government officials moved up the effective date of the new regulation to today, up from Jan. 1, 2018, which is the next uniform compliance date for food labeling regulations.

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

“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.

The 2009-10 National Steak E. coli outbreak is one of six outbreaks involving needle or blade tenderized beef, according to CDC data. The 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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