USDA finalizes labeling rule for mechanically tenderized beef

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, May 13, 2015 - The Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced a final rule for labeling of mechanically tenderized beef and will accelerate its implementation to reduce the chances of further illnesses linked to the product.

Under the new rule, raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized must bear labels that state if they have been mechanically, blade, or needle tenderized. The labels must also include cooking instructions including minimum internal temperatures and any hold or “dwell” times for the products to ensure that they are fully cooked.

Lets Talk Food In a release, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza said improved labeling and clear cooking instructions “are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products.” He added that the “common sense change” will result in “safer meals and fewer foodborne illnesses.”

When beef is mechanically tenderized, the process “can introduce pathogens from the surface of the cut to the interior” according to USDA, making proper cooking practices even more important. Because of the presence of potential pathogens, the cooking process for mechanically tenderized cuts differs from that of what the department calls “intact cuts.”

In a statement, the Safe Food Coalition - a collaboration of consumer, public health, and other groups - applauded USDA for releasing the new rule, saying it “will better protect consumers from foodborne illness by providing them with accurate information about whether the steak they are buying has been mechanically tenderized and how to safely prepare it.”

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 Jan. 1, 2018, the next Uniform Compliance Date for Food Labeling Regulations.

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In a release, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., commended Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for exempting the rule from language that would have held off its implementation until 2018. DeLauro, who has been calling for the finalization of this rule for some time, said she hopes this will keep consumers of mechanically tenderized beef safe.

"The serious and urgent health risks associated with consuming mechanically tenderized meats are clear,” DeLauro said in a statement. “Labeling MTB products as such will allow consumers to take the necessary steps to prepare their food in a safe manner, hopefully cutting down on foodborne illnesses. I am pleased that this critical public health issue will now be addressed, and applaud Secretary Vilsack for his attention to the issue."

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, according to FSIS. The agency says the changes brought about by this rule could prevent hundreds of illnesses every year.

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Updated at 12:40 to include statement from DeLauro

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