New requirements from the USDA, effective May 2016, require that raw or partially cooked beef products be labeled if they have been mechanically, blade, or needle tenderized and that cooking instructions for safe preparation be included. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) accelerated the effective date of this change because of its public health significance.
In its guideline, FSIS says that mechanically tenderized beef products must be thoroughly cooked, as opposed to being consumed so-called rare or medium rare, to “sufficiently reduce the risk [of] pathogenic bacteria.” These bacteria, including E. coli 0157:H7, can be introduced through penetration by needles and other devices when tenderized.
Since 2000, the CDC has received reports of six outbreaks linked with needle or blade tenderized beef products, including 176 E. coli 0157:H7 cases that resulted in 32 hospitalizations and four cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome. A contributing factor in all cases was failure to thoroughly cook a mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef product. The CDC recommends that any ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized be cooked to a temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit
In the new guidelines, FSIS recommends that two additional instructions be included on the labels of mechanically tenderized beef products: 1) to fully thaw meat before cooking so that even heating can be achieved throughout the product, and 2) to turn steak over at least twice during cooking to achieve more even heating and more consistent reductions in E.coli 0147:H7 than can be achieved by turning steaks only once.
The required cooking instructions under this new regulation must, at a minimum, include the method of cooking, a validated minimum internal temperature to destroy introduced pathogens, a statement about whether the product cooked in that manner should also be held for a specific time at a specified temperature or higher before consumption, and instruction that the internal temperature should be measured by use of a thermometer.
Douglas Powell, PhD, a former professor of food safety and a publisher of www.barfblog.com, says in a blog report that about 25 percent of the beef sold in the U.S. has been mechanically tenderized. An E. coli outbreak in Canada in 2012 led to the largest meat recall in that country’s history and prompted mandatory labeling that includes safe cooking instructions. Costco started labeling the mechanically tenderized beef it sells in the U.S. after the meat sold in its Canadian stores was implicated in the outbreak, Dr. Powell reports.