The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is unveiling their new labeling and cooking requirements for mechanically tenderized beef. Starting this week, meat processors are required to tell consumers if the steak or roast they are buying has been tenderized with blades or needles. This process can push pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella from the surface of the meat into the interior. Then, if the cut is cooked to a temperature of rare, bacteria that cause illness can survive and make people sick.
The final rule establishing the label identification was published on May 18, 2015. The product name for these products must contain this description: “Mechanically Tenderized” or, if needle tenderized the product can be described as “Needle Tenderized,” or if blade tenderized, the product can be described as “Blade Tenderized.” This information must be printed in a single easy-to-read type style and color.
Products that are not subject to this rule are those products that are clearly non-intact (i.e. not a solid muscle), such as ground beef patties or hamburger. Cubed beef steak does also not require a label, since the appearance is visibly changed, even though most people probably do not know those products need to be cooked to well-done to be safe. In addition, beef products that have been fully cooked do not need to be labeled according to this rule, neither do corned beef products, or mechanically tenderized beef products that are less than 1/8″ thick.
Cooking instructions must also appear on the label. Those must include the cooking methods, a specified minimum internal temperature, a statement that the internal temperature should be measured with a thermometer, and whether the food needs to be held at a specific time at that temperature to ensure that pathogens are destroyed.
Producers and processors can use a chart on the labels, indicating the cooking time for the different thicknesses of beef. Or they can use a verbal statement, such as “Grill until product reaches 145F, as measured by a food thermometer, and hold the product at or above that temperature for 3 minutes.” Fight Bac! has issued an infographic about this new rule and what consumers should do to make sure the beef they serve is safe.