Beef recall sparks tenderization debate

Monday 4 January 2010

A multi-state beef recall in the US has led to renewed focus on mechanical tenderization as a possible cause of increased E. coli risk in beef and pork products.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) recalled 248,000 pounds of mechanically tenderized beef products from Oklahoma-based National Steak and Poultry on December 24 after they were linked to 21 illnesses across 16 states.

Mechanical tenderization involves inserting hundreds of tiny needles into tougher beef products to physically break up muscle fibres, and it is also used to inject marinades into pork. It is alleged that the process could transfer any E. coli bacteria that may be on the surface of meat into its core, meaning that consumers would need to heat the product to at least 160°F (71°C) to ensure the bacteria are killed.

The paths made by the needling process are imperceptible after the meat is cut, and currently the USDA does not require that products carry labels specifying that they have been mechanically tenderized.

But the recall has led to calls for labeling, including from Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who said in a statement: “USDA has been aware of the E. coli risks associated with mechanically tenderized steaks as early as 1999, but has refused to act. The USDA should move immediately to require labeling that clearly identifies mechanically tenderized beef and pork products for all processing facilities, retailers and consumers.”

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