Thursday, May 14, 2015

USDA Issues Rule on Labeling of Mechanically Tenderized Beef Products

Mechanically tenderized meat (aka injected meat, blade tenderized meat, chopped steak) will have to be labeled as such and also have proper cooking instructions.  This type of meat has a higher risk in that the process of sticking needles in the meat, or cutting the meat, can force harmful bacteria into the internal portions of the meat.  Because of this, it needs to be cooked more, just like hamburger (no rare or medium rare).  Unlike hamburger, it is not obvious that it needs to be cooked more in that the meat cuts look the same as whole 'intact' cuts of beef.

This is a good rule.  People are normally unaware of the difference of tenderized cuts of meat and intact cuts of meat and the fact that you need to cook it more.  Labeling these cuts will help. 

The rule does not go into effect until May, 2016.

USDA News Release
USDA Finalizes Rule to Require Labeling of Mechanically Tenderized Beef Products
New labels and cooking instructions will give consumers information they need to safely enjoy these products

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2015 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced new labeling requirements for raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized. Consumers, restaurants, and other food service facilities will now have more information about the products they are buying, as well as useful cooking instructions so they know how to safely prepare them.

“Labeling mechanically tenderized beef products and including cooking instructions on the package are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products,” said Deputy Under Secretary Al Almanza. “This common sense change will lead to safer meals and fewer foodborne illnesses.”

These new requirements will become effective in May 2016, or one year from the date of the rule’s publication in the Federal Register. Because of the public health significance of this change, FSIS is accelerating the effective date instead of waiting until the next Uniform Compliance Date for Food Labeling Regulations, which is January 1, 2018.

Product tenderness is a key selling point for beef products. To increase tenderness, some cuts of beef are tenderized mechanically by piercing them with needles or small blades in order to break up tissue. This process, however, can introduce pathogens from the surface of the cut to the interior, making proper cooking very important.

The potential presence of pathogens in the interior of these products means they should be cooked differently than intact cuts. FSIS is finalizing these new labeling requirements because mechanically tenderized products look no different than intact product, but it is important for consumers to know that they need to handle them differently.

Under this rule, these products must bear labels that state that they have been mechanically, blade or needle tenderized. The labels must also include validated cooking instructions so that consumers know how to safely prepare them. The instructions will have to specify the minimum internal temperatures and any hold or “dwell” times for the products to ensure that they are fully cooked.

Since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of six outbreaks attributable to needle or blade tenderized beef products prepared in restaurants and consumers’ homes. Failure to thoroughly cook a mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef product was a significant contributing factor in each of these outbreaks. FSIS predicts that the changes brought about by this rule could prevent hundreds of illnesses every year.

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