Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is keeping the pressure on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to label mechanically tenderized beef. Some 50 million pounds of these needle- or blade-tenderized steaks are sold in the United States each month, but they are not labeled even though food safety officials recommend non-intact steaks be cooked to a higher internal temperature to kill bacteria.

DeLauro (D-CT) sent a letter to Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack this week urging action “before another grilling season comes and goes.”

The congresswoman, a longtime hawk on food safety issues, also brought up the issue during an appropriations hearing last month and pointed out that the labeling issue is especially pertinent as grilling season approaches.

mechanical-tenderizer-308.jpgThe USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service 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 they hit 160 degrees, just like hamburger.

“When consumers are unaware that these are non-intact products, the risk associated with these products is unnecessarily heightened,” wrote DeLauro, adding that she believes a December 2009 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 linked to mechanically tenderized steaks may have been prevented with appropriate labeling.

Hagen recently told Congress that FSIS is working on the labeling issue and hopes to have a final rule about by summer.

“We do believe they should be labeled. This is important information for consumers to have,” said Hagen.

In her letter to the agency, DeLauro said she was encouraged by Hagen’s remarks at the hearing, but pointed out that FSIS has been reviewing the issue since “at least 2009.”

  • DJ

    It is amazing, that the USDA is taking so much time to decide if they will do something about a serious risk to health. With their track record, they will probably take many more years to think about it, and if they will ever require the meat labels at all. How many people will get food poisoning, because they were never alerted to the potential for the steaks to be contaminated with deadly pathogens in the center of the cut, and don’t cook the meat to death. The USDA, FDA, CDC, CPSC and other government agencies are not looking out for the people in the US. What are we paying them for, I wonder. They don’t seem to want to work for us.

  • doc raymond

    DJ, I used to sit in Dr. Hagen’s chair, and I discussed this issue with staff more than once. Think about this: 50 million pounds sold each month of this product, and in the last ten years less than 50 illnesses linked to the steaks.

  • Barbara Skoglund

    Perhaps someone needs to come up with a “gross” name and start a petition… maybe then retailers will mark the product and indicate appropriate cooking temps.
    needle meat
    poky pork
    prickled meat
    spiked meat
    meat on the needle
    hypodermic meat
    gaffus meat (found this one on a drug slang site;)
    Perhaps people can even become trypanophobic (fear of needles)
    Sorry – too many “pink slime” articles have addled my brain;)

  • GW

    Who grills tenderized steaks?
    In my experience if someone wants their steak rare it doesn’t matter what the directions on the package are they will cook it rare.

  • Minkpuppy

    In the plants I inspect, the blade/needle tenderized products mostly tend to be cube steaks and skirt steaks for restaraunts. The skirt steaks are marinated in fajita seasonings and the cube steaks are coated with flour/seasonings to make chicken fried steaks. Neither are usually cooked to rare or medium-rare unless its a really oddball order. They’re usually medium to well-done in the middle. Shouldn’t even be on the radar as a food safety risk for these product.
    As for ribeyes and sirloins, it’s pretty easy to see the needle marks in the steaks through the film in the package and they’re usually pumped with some sort of tenderizer. I don’t buy them if I see pinholes on the surface of the steak. It’s likely to be a tough steak if the processor though it needed tenderizing before hand.

  • JD

    Just more tricks of the Big Meat processing trade — mechanically doctoring tough textured cuts with needles and chemical tenderizers — along with the use of controlled atmosphere packaging with carbon monoxide to give that dull grey slab a more appetizing red, rosy glow…

  • John

    @DocRaymond: What if your child were one of those 50 people? And what if he/she went on to develop HUS and needed a kidney transplant and had a couple decades taken off their life expectancy and now have a hugely reduced quality of life??? I guess that would be ok, right? After all, just look at all the people who DIDN’T get sick, that’s what matters.
    And where do you get these numbers? Let’s say 50 is accurate… I’m assuming that is 50 CONFIRMED cases? Do you not realize that for every confirmed case there may be 40 or even a couple hundred more UNconfirmed cases? Some of these cases could have been EASILY/CHEAPLY avoided simply by instructing people to cook the steaks to a certain temperature.