Eating mechanically tenderized beef could make you sick

Before you bite into your next steak, consider this unappetizing fact: It may have been punctured all over before it made its way to your plate, contaminating the inside of the meat with bacteria that can make you sick.

needle.tenderize.crAs the name suggests, mechanically tenderized beef has been put through a machine that breaks up the muscle fiber and tough connective tissue with blades or needles. This promotional video for the Jaccard Model H Commercial Meat Tenderizer shows just what that looks like (below).

About a quarter of beef sold in the U.S. has been treated this way. The restaurant industry is one of the largest purchasers of mechanically tenderized beef because the process makes cheaper cuts of beef more palatable and therefore more marketable. Moderately priced cuts – such as sirloin tip, eye of round, inside round and outside round – are more likely to have been mechanically tenderized, according to the beef industry.

After an E. coli outbreak in 2012 prompted the largest meat recall in Canada’s history, the country instituted mandatory labeling of all mechanically tenderized beef that includes safe cooking instructions. In the U.S., Costco started voluntarily labeling such cuts as “blade tenderized” after meat sold in its Canadian stores was implicated in that outbreak.

After years of pressure by consumer groups, the U.S. now is poised to require labeling of mechanically tenderized beef, too. That’s over the objections of the meat industry. But the new rules still might take years to take effect.

Why wait for government? Mechanically tenderized meat labels delayed in US until at least 2018

The best food providers don’t wait for – or hide behind — government.

That’s why Costco already labels meat that is mechanically or needle tenderized.

needle.tenderize.crOther retailers should do the same.

For those waiting for government, a labeling rule which would require packages to provide cooking instructions for the mechanically tenderized meat, had to be finalized by Dec. 31 in order for it to take effect before 2018 under separate requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Philip Brasher writes in Agri-Pulse that FSIS first proposed the labeling for mechanically tenderized meat in June 2013 out of concern that consumers aren’t cooking the meat properly to eliminate pathogens. The meat is tenderized with knives and needles that can drive bacteria inside the product.

However, the meat industry strongly opposes the labeling requirement and USDA officials did not send the final rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review until Nov. 21. The regulation remains pending at OMB. Under FSIS labeling regulations, the labeling rule could have taken effect as soon as 2016 only if it had been cleared by OMB and approved by USDA by Dec. 31.

The meat industry has argued that the meat doesn’t pose a significant risk and that the special cooking instructions aren’t warranted. In comments filed with FSIS in October 2013, the American Meat Institute said that antimicrobial measures instituted by processors assure that the meat is safe.

The Costco label says the meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Corbo said the final FSIS rule is likely to offer consumers an option to the 160-degree minimum: Cook the meat to 145 degrees and let it stand for least three minutes. The meat will continue to cook internally for the three minutes even though it is no longer on the heat source. 

US health groups want mechanically tenderized meat label rule finalized

Food safety types are pressuring the Obama administration to finalize a rule before the year ends that will require meat packers to label beef that is mechanically tenderized.

needle.tenderize.crThe Center for Foodborne Illness (CFI) Research & Prevention said if the U.S. Department of Agriculture labeling rule is not published by Dec. 31, it won’t be implemented until January 2018 due to Food Safety and Inspection Service uniform compliance date requirements for labeling meat and poultry products.

The nonprofit health organization said mechanically tenderizing meat creates a higher risk of bacteria contamination that causes food poisoning. 

Mechanically tenderized products like steaks and roasts are repeatedly pierced by small needles or blades, which the group says increases the risk of pathogens located on the surface of the product being transferred to the interior.

needle.tenderize.beef.HC.feb.14From 2003 to 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received reports of five foodborne illnesses attributable to needle- or blade-tenderized beef products prepared in restaurants and consumers’ homes. 

The rules would require the labels to display cooking instructions so consumers have the information they need to properly destroy pathogens.

Canada passed a labeling law in Aug. 2014.

Labels the law for all mechanically tenderized beef in Canada

In a move to cut risk from foodborne E. coli, all mechanically tenderized beef (MTB) sold in Canada from today on must be labelled as such and list instructions on safe cooking.

needle.tenderize.crHealth Minister Rona Ambrose on Thursday announced the new labelling requirements for all uncooked MTB — expanding a rule that’s been in place since July last year for federally licensed beef plants producing steaks and roasts.

The new label must clearly state the beef being sold is “mechanically tenderized,” and must include instructions for safe cooking, stressing the importance of cooking MTB to a minimum internal temperature of 145 F (63 C) and turning over steaks at least twice during cooking.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is tasked with verifying retailers’ and packers’ labels meet the new requirements, Health Canada said.

Mechanical tenderization is a common practice for improving beef tenderness and flavour, using needles or blades to break down, penetrate or pierce the meat’s surface and disrupt the muscle fibers, or to inject the meat with a marinade or tenderizer.

mech-tenderized-beef-boeuf-attendris-meca-01-413x280Normally, the risk of E. coli contamination from a rare or undercooked steak, roast or other solid cut of beef is “not a significant concern” since such bacteria would normally be on the surface of the meat and “inactivated” during cooking.

Much like grinding beef, mechanical tenderization can increase the potential for bacteria to transfer from the surface to the centre of the meat.

Unlike ground beef, however, as a Health Canada health risk assessment pointed out last year, it’s “not necessarily apparent by just looking at a mechanically tenderized meat product that it has undergone this process.”

The May 2013 assessment showed “a five-fold increase in risk from MTB products when compared to intact cuts of beef.”

Health Canada noted that in 2012, out of 18 cases of foodborne E. coli O157-related illness from a Canadian outbreak linked to contaminated beef, five cases were considered to be “likely associated with the consumption of beef that had been mechanically tenderized at the retail level.”

The rule covers all solid cuts of MTB, regardless of thickness, which means it will also apply to cubed steaks, “fast fry” or “minute” steaks. It will apply to both pre-packaged and non-pre-packaged products.

MTB that’s packaged on the premises at selection or purchase — such as in a butcher shop or at a clerk-served meat counter — will need to be identified as such before the customer selects a desired cut of beef. An in-store sign would identify a product in a display case as “mechanically tenderized,” for example.

In those cases, once meat has been packaged to give to the customer, the product must carry both the mandatory “mechanically tenderized” label and safe cooking instructions on the “principal display panel.”

Metal tip found in Calgary boy’s burger may be meat tenderizing needle: expert

Needle or mechanically tenderized beef can introduce shiga-toxin producing E. coli like O157 into the center of a steak, rendering it not safe if undercooked, but what about the actual needle?

needle.tenderize.crJames Deane, who is six, was eating a hamburger made from meat purchased from Costco on Wednesday night in Calgary when he bit into a piece of metal which looks like the tip of a needle.

Domenic Pedulla, president of Canadian Food Safety Group, says meat is injected with brine or flavouring a lot of times because they’re using a lower quality or tough cut.

James’ father, Mike Deane, contacted Costco and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency after finding the needle.

Costco confirms the meat was purchased at its south Calgary store, and has started an investigation with the supplier, JBS Food Canada, Inc., which has a plant in Brooks, Alta.

JBS says it is aware of the allegations and is co-operating with the investigation.

Pedulla says processors run their products through metal detectors to avoid such situations.

He says foreign objects in food are becoming less common “because processors are tightening up their procedures and the technology is getting better.”

Needle tenderized? No problemo; AMI asks for withdrawal of beef rule

The American Meat Institute has submitted comments recommending that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) withdraw its proposed rule requiring labeling on needle- or blade-tenderized beef products.

“The existing labeling scheme for products that have been needle injected or blade tenderized, with appropriate qualifying statements or tenderizingPageother label information, provides open and transparent information based on recognizable common and usual product names and should be kept,” the comments say.

The comments highlight, among other things, the safety record of mechanically tenderized (MT) products, as well the proposed rule’s potential to confuse consumers by changing the product name to include the mechanically tenderized distinction. 

AMI’s full comments are available at http://www.meatami.com/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/94617

How is a rare burger defined? Why there’s no such thing as simple food safety advice

The UK Food Standards Agency is full of food safety contradictions: cook meat until it is piping hot; wash watercress to avoid E. coli; and, pink steaks are safe.

Back in August, according to the Daily Mail, district judge Elizabeth Roscoe ruled that London-based Davey’s could continue to serve tenderizingPagerare beefburgers, rejecting claims they were a health risk.

“There is a balance to be struck between ensuring the safety of the public and allowing them the freedom of choice that they would wish and have a right to expect.”

The council wanted Davy’s beef supplier to sear and shave the outside of whole cuts of meat to remove any harmful bugs.

Davy’s argued that its suppliers could be trusted to supply beef that could be safely eaten.

But Westminster council’s food safety chief James Armitage, “We are not saying burgers should not be eaten rare  or medium – merely that they should be prepared in a way that makes them as safe as practicably possible.”

What are those controls?

Before the judge’s ruling, the Daily Mail published a bit about how FSA was going to advise that all meat be cooked until no pink remained.

Color is a lousy indicator.

Stephen Humphreys, director of communications at FSA, explained, “We have issued no guidance that would prevent steaks being served rare, we have no plans to do so and why would we?

Steak is safe to eat ‘rare’. Whole cuts of beef or lamb, steaks, cutlets and joints only have germs on the outside, so as long as the outside is cooked any potentially harmful germs that could cause food poisoning will be killed.”

Not quite.

Steaks that have been needle tenderized have the albeit-low potential for pathogens to be entered into the meat, and requiring a higher cooking temperature.

Food safety advice is never simple.

Who wants a hockey puck for a roast?

I spent the last two hours doing my annual talk and chat session with summer public health students, invoking in them the capacity to care; public health doug.hockey.goalieain’t glamorous, but it matters.

Contrary to what Kansas State University admin types may think, the stagecoaches manage to run through Brisbane at 1 a.m.

Somehow I also managed to comment on needle tenderized beef, while not physically in Manhattan (the Kansas version) even though I’ve been there the majority of the last four months.

And I made a hockey analogy.

I even had a guy visit me at the house yesterday to talk food safety, and he asked me to show him a hockey puck.

I did.

Elizabeth Weise writes in USA Today today that after years of food-safety concerns and at least five outbreaks of illness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing that mechanically tenderized meat — 26% of all the beef sold in the USA — be labeled as such and that labels include cooking instructions.

Tenderizing meat mechanically involves forcing hundreds of tiny blades or needles through it to break up muscle fibers and make it more tender.

Unfortunately, it can also drive pathogens that might be on the surface, such as E. coli O157:H7, deep into the cut’s interior, where cooking may not kill them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have braun.hockeybeen five E. coli outbreaks attributed to mechanically tenderized beef, sickening 174 people. Four died.

It’s impossible to tell just by looking that a cut of meat has undergone mechanical tenderization, said USDA Undersecretary Elisabeth Hagen.

“When people buy cube steak, you see the marks where the machinery has cubed up the steak,” Hagen said. “When people buy ground beef, they know they’re getting ground product. But when people order this product, they don’t know. And certainly, when people are ordering in a restaurant, they don’t know they’re ordering this product.”

She added, “A lot of people want a medium-rare steak. But if folks knew that the steak they’re buying might not be what they think it is, and might be in a higher risk category,” they might want it well done.

Some stores do label the product. Costco labels mechanically tenderized beef it sells as “blade tenderized.”

Until now, the USDA hadn’t required producers to label mechanically tenderized meat so consumers know what they’re buying. The new rules, to be announced Thursday, would require that mechanically tenderized products be labeled. The labels would include cooking instructions.

Hagen said mechanically tenderized meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees, then allowed to sit for at least three life.hockeyminutes after it is taken off the heat to insure any potential pathogens are killed.

Canada has rules in the works to require labeling of mechanically tenderized meat. Last October, an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 linked to meat processor XL Foods sickened 18 people and led to the country’s largest beef recall, almost 2.5 million pounds of meat. Some of it was mechanically tenderized.

Some food-safety specialists aren’t sure labeling would make much difference.

“We can’t get people to use thermometers on steaks. Why would they do it for needle-tenderized meat?” said Doug Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.

Cooking blade-tenderized meat to 145 degrees, the temperature required to kill E. coli, would “turn it into a hockey puck,” Powell said. “Why would someone pay the premium for steak or roast and then turn it into a hockey puck?”

More E. coli testing, labels for tenderized beef, but questions remain in Canadian food safety plans

Canada is strengthening its E. coli testing in summer months and will mandate labeling of mechanically or needle tenderized beef, but some omissions are notable.

• The changes only apply to meat produced at federal plants inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. How do consumers know which is which?

• The labeling requirements only apply to cuts that are tenderized at a CFIA-regulated slaughterhouse. What about cuts that are treated further down the supply system? Health Canada says it’s working on it.

• Most notable, the expanded testing for E. coli only applies to the O157:H7/NM serotype (details of the changes are at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/meavia/man/ch4/annexoe.shtml). There is no mention of testing for other shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STECs) such as the big six (O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145) which were declared adulterants by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I’m fairly sure that those slaughterhouses that want to continue exporting to the U.S. will have to meet U.S. testing requirements. As a consumer I’d like to know which meat has been produced under such a system of testing.

The changes follow an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 last fall that sickened 18 people. Contaminated product was produced at XL Foods of Alberta and led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history. Several of those sickened were tenderizingPage-282x300thought to have consumed needle-tenderized product (with this technique, outside becomes inside, like hamburger, so should be cooked to 165F for safety reasons; I don’t know anyone that spends on the expense of a roast and then cooks to 165F).

Ritz said, “Canada has a world-class food safety system and our Government is committed to taking real steps to make it even stronger.”

Uh-huh.

Ritz said of labeling of mechanical tenderization beef, “It’s common sense, but it needs to be out there.”

Uh-huh.

Can we guarantee there’ll never be anymore (outbreaks)? No. Anybody that tells you you can is lying to you. It wouldn’t matter how much money, how many people you have on the lines, there’s too many moving parts to Chicago_meat_inspection_swift_co_1906-268x300guarantee an absolute. But at the end of the day, we want to take every precaution we can.”

Uh-huh.

A table of non- E. coli O157 STEC outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/nonO157outbreaks

E. coli is a risk from a variety of sources

Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science & Society, writes in the Montreal Gazette that you have probably never heard of André Jaccard, but if you eat meat, you have likely benefitted from his invention, although some would argue that the term “benefitted” has to be qualified. What cannot be argued is that back in the 1970s, Jaccard revolutionized an industry by patenting his meat-tenderizing machine!

Tough meat is a tough sell. And what makes for tough meat? An abundance of collagen, the robust protein that makes up what is tenderizingPagegenerally referred to as “connective tissue.” To make meat more tender, collagen has to be disrupted either chemically or physically. Moist cooking for a long time will do this, as will aging, marinating in an acid solution or treatment with a plant enzyme such as papain, extracted from papaya. But collagen can also be degraded by grinding, pounding, or “jaccarding.”

Jaccard’s invention was a machine that tenderizes meat by piercing it with a series of needles and razor-sharp blades that surgically shred the connective tissue and thereby, at least according to the manufacturer’s claim, make any cut of meat “butter tender.” “Jaccarding” also allows more complete penetration of marinades and reduces shrinkage and cooking times. It is easy to see why such mechanically tenderized meat appeals to suppliers, retailers, caterers and restaurants. After all, it means being able to satisfy palates with cheaper cuts. But it may also mean exposing diners to some nasty microbes, such as the notorious E. coli O157: H7.

Roughly half of all cattle shed E. coli O157: H7 in their feces, and then end up contaminating their hides as they romp through the muck in feedlots. When their hides are stripped off after slaughter, the bacteria can be transferred to the underlying meat. Similar transfer can occur through removal of bacteria-tainted entrails. Should the contaminated meat then be ground, the bacteria can become distributed throughout. But not everyone who became sick from meat that originated in the XL plant ate hamburgers; some apparently became ill after eating roasts or steaks. This caused suspicion to be cast on jaccarded meat, given that the process can drive bacteria from surface deep into the tissues, where they may survive, especially if the meat is consumed rare.

Meat that has been tenderized in this fashion is not easy to identify, since the holes made by piercing seal up and vanish. If jaccarded cuts were labelled, as is now being considered, people who buy meat would at least be alerted to making sure that an internal temperature of 70 degrees is reached. Of course, it would be more difficult to know with absolute certainty with meat consumed in restaurants, hotels or catered events.