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Beef Retailers Now Labeling Mechanically Tenderized Beef

Posted by Christopher Bernstein, Director of Food Safety Education, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA in Health and Safety
Feb 21, 2017
Food Safety for Mechanically Tenderized Beef infographic
Beginning this week, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service started requiring meat processors to properly label beef products that have been mechanically tenderized. The new label also provides customers with cooking instructions for safe handling of these products. (Click to view a larger version)

This summer and grilling season – which unofficially kicks off in less than two weeks with Memorial Day weekend – American shoppers will see an important new label on some steak packages. Beginning May 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service started requiring meat processors to disclose a common practice known as mechanical tenderization and provide safe cooking instructions so their customers know to handle these products carefully.

Product tenderness is a key selling point for beef products. To increase tenderness, some cuts of beef are tenderized mechanically by piercing them with needles or small blades in order to break up tissue. This process takes place before the beef is packaged but can also occur at the grocery store’s butcher counter, at a restaurant, or in the home. The blades or needles can introduce pathogens from the surface of the beef to the interior, making proper cooking very important. However, mechanically tenderized products look no different than product that has not been treated this way, so without disclosure on the label, consumers may not know about this higher food safety risk.

These products, like all whole cuts of beef, should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source.  For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes after it has been removed from the heat source before carving or consuming.  During this rest time, the internal temperature is either constant or slightly rises to destroy pathogens.

Since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received reports of six outbreaks attributable to mechanically tenderized beef products prepared in restaurants and consumers’ homes.  Some cases resulted in hospitalization and hemolytic uremic syndrome. Undercooking these products was a significant contributing factor in all of these cases.

Beginning this week, home cooks, restaurants, and other food service facilities will now have more information about the products they are buying, as well as useful cooking instructions so they know how to safely prepare them.

This new requirement is the latest of several measures the Food Safety and Inspection Service has implemented over the past several years to improve the safety of meat and poultry products, and to give consumers more information about the products they are buying.  In 2012, USDA began enforcing a zero tolerance policy for raw beef products containing six strains of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, giving products that test positive for these six pathogens the same illegal and unsafe status USDA has long given products testing positive for E. coli O157:H7. Last summer, FSIS implemented new recordkeeping requirements for retailers that will greatly improve the agency to track products involved in foodborne illness outbreaks back to their source. More information on this work can be found at USDA’s Food Safety results page.

Using the four food safety steps—CleanSeparateCook, and Chill—every time will help to keep you and your family safe from foodborne illness.  And if you have any food safety questions, you can call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.

Category/Topic: Health and Safety

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Comments

Kim E Dement
May 21, 2016

So they are labeling the process of tendering the beef, but they don't label the antibiotics or hormones or steriods that are in the beef, which I believe is much more important. Don't eat meat that much anymore because of the way the animals are treated and cared for.

Scott Moody
May 31, 2016

Ms. Dement,
Beef is routinely tested and must be free of antibiotic residue. Beef producers will occasionally utilized antibiotics to appropiatly treat illness in cattle, but all the medications have a safe withdrawal period before they can be processed, and most producers will even add a little more time to that just to be safe. As for your hormone and steroid claim, first a steroid is just a type of hormone, and secondly, everything you consume has hormones in it at some level. Including fruits, vegetables, and nuts. I hope this clears up some of the misunderstandings you've had about beef.

Herb Practicon
Jun 03, 2016

Hold on here... I thought the difference in cooking beef to 145ºF vs. 165ºF was that solid cuts, steaks, roasts, etc, with their interiors not mixed with the bacteria from the outside would be safe to eat at the lower temperature. How can meat pierced through with skewers be any different than ground beef? I likely will not buy these tenderized cuts except to grind into hamburger.

Joe Moore
Jul 05, 2016

The blades or needles used to tenderize a solid cut of beef would not be contributing e-coli bacteria to the product. e-coli is a naturally occurring bacteria in the digestive tract of the animal and contamination would occur curing processing. Those solid muscle cuts tenderized during further fabrication would not be subject to those bacteria. That is why the USDA recommendation on cooking temp is 145 degrees.