September 21, 2023

USDA Finally Finalizes Mechanically Tenderized Beef Label Rule

The USDA has finally finalized labeling requirements for mechanically tenderized beef. That product is pierced with needles or small blades to tenderize, which introduces bacteria into the interior. When the beef is cooked less than well done, people who eat it can get sick because bacteria survive at temperatures less than 160°F.

usdaartThe rule will go into effect in May 2016, one year from the date of the rule’s publication in the Federal Register. USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza said in a statement, “labeling mechanically tenderized beef products and including cooking instructions on the package are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products. This common sense change will lead to safer meals and fewer foodborne illnesses.” There have been six foodborne illness outbreaks linked to tenderized beef products since 2000.

The new labeling laws were supposed to be on beef packages in 2018, but USDA accelerated the date after consumer and consumer advocate complaints became numerous. The Safe Food Coalition is applauding this decision. That Coalition includes the Center for Foodborne Illness, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, National Consumers League, and STOP Foodborne Illness,

The Coalition said, “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. We are grateful to Secretary Vilsack and USDA for their efforts to finalize this important consumer protection rule.”

These mechanically tenderized products must be prepared differently from intact cuts. The tenderized beef does not look any different from intact cuts, which is why those outbreaks occurred. Piercing the meat with tiny needles or blades doesn’t leave any apparent holes in the product.

Labeling will hopefully prevent these outbreaks, since consumers and facilities will know to cook the meat to well done, and know to check that temperature with a reliable food thermometer in order to avoid illness. Failure to thoroughly cooked a mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef product “was a significant factor in each of those outbreaks,” according to USDA.

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