THE Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) has proposed a new rule that would require mechanically tenderized beef products to be labeled accordingly and to include cooking instructions to ensure that the products are cooked correctly.
To increase tenderness, some beef cuts are pierced by blades or needles to break muscle fibers — a process known as mechanical tenderization, FSIS explained. However, during this process, pathogens present on the outside of a cut may be transferred to the inside, and the cut, if not properly prepared, may pose a greater threat to consumers than an intact cut, FSIS said.
An estimated 25% of raw beef products are mechanically tenderized, FSIS assistant administrator Rachel Edelstein noted.
FSIS said the label and cooking instructions would allow consumers and restaurants to prepare these products so they are safe.
In developing the proposed rule, FSIS said it drew on its own research and that of the Agricultural Research Service and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to determine public health risks associated with mechanically tenderized beef and the benefits of the proposed rule.
The rule has been published in the Federal Register and is posted at www.fsis.usda.gov/regulations_&_policies/Proposed_Rules/index.asp. It provides for a 60-day comment period.
The American Meat Institute (AMI), which represents meat processors, said the proposed rule "is partly correct" but "mostly wrong."
AMI executive vice president James H. Hodges said the proposed cooking instructions represent "a valuable component" of the rule that AMI supports.
However, he said the label should read, for instance, "Sirloin Steak" and say the product has been mechanically tenderized, rather than "Mechanically Tenderized Sirloin Steak," which could be confusing to consumers who may believe that the product is different from sirloin steaks with which they are familiar.
Also, Hodges said there are other ways to tenderize beef, including using flavored marinades or other solutions. Historically, he said, mechanical tenderization and the use of marinades have been considered two "very different types of tenderized products," but FSIS seems to be combining them under one "mechanically tenderized" label.
Both processes "have excellent food safety records," Hodges said, but when there have been food safety issues, they have been "almost exclusively" associated with marinades or solutions rather than mechanical tenderization.