The finalized labeling requirements for mechanically tenderized beef were released Wednesday and will go into effect in May 2016. Under the new rule, raw or partially cooked beef products must bear labels that state that they have been mechanically, blade or needle tenderized. The labels must also include cooking instructions — including the minimum internal temperatures and any hold times — so that consumers know how to safely prepare them. Mechanical tenderization of beef poses health risks because it can transfer pathogens from the surface of the meat into the center. If these cuts are then not cooked thoroughly enough, the pathogens can sicken the consumer. But it’s impossible to know whether the meat has been mechanically tenderized just by looking at it, which is why consumer advocates have been calling for a label. “Labeling mechanically tenderized beef products and including cooking instructions on the package are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “This common sense change will lead to safer meals and fewer foodborne illnesses.” Since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of six outbreaks attributable to needle or blade tenderized beef products in restaurants and consumers’ homes. FSIS predicts that the changes brought about by this rule could prevent hundreds of illnesses every year. New labeling laws are implemented in two-year increments so that new label rules made in 2013 or 2014 will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2016. When the mechanically tenderized beef label wasn’t finalized before the end of 2014, advocates were frustrated by the prospect that it wouldn’t make it onto beef packages until 2018. But because of the public health significance of this new label, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is accelerating the effective date so that it becomes effective in May 2016. Members of the Safe Food Coalition applauded the labeling requirement, along with the timeline. “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 coalition, which includes 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. “We are grateful to Secretary Vilsack and USDA for their efforts to finalize this important consumer protection rule,” the groups said. “I am very pleased,” Patricia Buck, executive director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, told Food Safety News. “I think it’s a huge step forward in consumer protection.” Although it took several years to finish the rule, Buck said she was thankful the rule won’t have to wait another three years before it goes into effect.