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.”