WASHINGTON, June 6, 2013- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is proposing new requirements for labeling beef products that are mechanically tenderized.

To increase tenderness, some cuts of beef go through a process known as mechanical tenderization, during which they are pierced by needles or sharp blades in order to break up muscle fibers. The process may transfer pathogens present on the outside of the cut to the interior, FSIS administrators explained

Currently, intact and mechanically tenderized products may have the same label, so consumers and restaurants do not know if the products they purchase are mechanically tenderized, explained Rachel Edelstein, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Assistant Administrator.  

Edelstein told reporters today the estimated one-time cost of the new rule is $310 per label and the total cost for the whole industry is $140,000 annually.

The rule is limited to beef products, because “we don’t have the same level of data for other meat products as we do for beef,” she said. She also noted an estimated 26 percent of raw beef products are mechanically tenderized.

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. Failure to thoroughly cook a mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef product was a significant contributing factor in all of the outbreaks, USDA explained in its announcement.

“These products are different than intact product,” Edelstein said. “They need to be fully cooked.”

The proposed labels would require an accurate description of beef components in products and validated cooking instructions with minimum internal temperature, she noted.

If the rule is passed reviewed and approved by USDA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by September 31, 2014, it will go into effect in January 2016.

The comment period will end 60 days after the proposal publishes in the Federal Register.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a known proponent of food safety issues, today issued a statement encouraging USDA to publish and implement the final rule “in a timely manner so consumers are not left in the dark for another summer.”

Without proper labeling, people cannot know if a product has been mechanically tenderized and what that means for the cooking process,” DeLauro said.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Scott George stated: “From the cattle producer to the packer to the consumer, we all play an important role in food safety. The safety of our beef supply is a top priority for American cattlemen and women.”

George said his organization would review the proposal and work with producers and industry stakeholders to provide comments to FSIS. 

“Since 1993, the beef industry has invested more than $30 million in research and outreach to ensure that the beef we produce to feed our nation and the world is safe, healthy and wholesome,” he noted. 

This story was updated at 5:05 p.m. 6/6/2013. 


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