USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Thursday released a proposed rule to label mechanically tenderized beef and include cooking information on the label.
Mechanical tenderization, a process that increases tenderness through the use of sharp needles or blades that break up muscle fibers, has come under scrutiny for the increased potential to transfer pathogens from the exterior of the meat to the interior.
Because of the possible presence of pathogens in the interior of the product, mechanically tenderized beef products may pose a greater threat to public health than intact beef products, if they are not cooked properly, USDA says.
Therefore, the proposed rule would make labels on the mechanically tenderized product say that the process has been used, and include better cooking instructions.
"Ensuring that consumers have effective tools and information is important in helping them protect their families against foodborne illness," says Under Secretary Elisabeth Hagen. "This proposed rule would enhance food safety by providing clear labeling of mechanically-tenderized beef products and outlining new cooking instructions so that consumers and restaurants can safely prepare these products."
Since 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of five outbreaks attributable to needle or blade tenderized beef products prepared in restaurants and consumers' homes. USDA says failure to cook the products properly was a factor in all of the outbreaks.
"We have been calling for a label for mechanically tenderized meat for years because consumers deserve to know what they're putting in their carts and on their tables," says Ami Gadhia, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union.
The group, a public policy arm of Consumer Reports, released a report on mechanically tenderized meat in the June 2013 issue of the magazine.
Food activist group Center for Science in the Public Interest also commented in support of the proposed rule, noting that "USDA should accelerate the requirement and make labels mandatory by January 2014."
The proposal is posted on the FSIS website.