December 20, 2014

E. coli 0157:H7 Public Health Alert for XL Foods Beef Products Expands in U.S.

Sirloin SteakThe USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is expanding the Public Health Alert issued on September 28, 2012 for XL Foods beef products. The products, manufactured at the Canadian plant, have been recalled for possible E. coli 0157:H7 contamination. And at least 10 consumers in Canada have been sickened by E. coli 0157:H7 by mechanically tenderized meat produced at XL Foods.

All beef and beef products produced on August 24, 27, 28, 29, and September 5, 2012 at the XL Foods plant are being recalled. Back in September, the FSIS reported that about 890,000 pounds of boneless beef trim were imported into the U.S. from XL Foods. Now, they estimate that about 1.1 million pounds of beef trim and 1.4 million pounds of primal and sub-primal cuts were imported. The primal and sub-primal cuts are used to make steaks, roasts, and mechanically tenderized steaks and roasts.

Mechanically tenderized cuts are a particular problem because they are not always clearly identified as such. To tenderize, manufacturers pierce steaks and roasts with fine needles, which can deposit pathogenic bacteria from the surface of the meat to the interior. Unless those cuts are identified and instructions tell consumers to cook them to well done (165 degrees F or higher), dangerous bacteria can remain in the meat after cooking.

The needle holes or cuts disappear after treatment, so the consumer has no way of knowing that the product is potentially contaminated throughout. How often do you order or cook a steak well done? The USDA does not require that this product be labeled and identified as a particular hazard.

In mid September, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack approved a proposed labeling rule for mechanically tenderized beef and sent it to the White House Office of Budget and Management for approval. The rule should be published for comment in the next few months. The new rule would require processors to indicate a safe final internal temperature for mechanically tenderized products.

Processors object to this rule, since they would have to label products instructing them to be cooked to 165 degrees F. But consumers have been seriously sickened and injured by improperly cooked mechanically tenderized beef products before this current outbreak. We’ll let you know when the rule is published so anyone concerned about this issue can comment.

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