THE U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) announced new regulations for raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized.
Under the rule, these products must bear labels that state that they have been mechanically, blade or needle tenderized.
The labels must also include validated cooking instructions so consumers know how to safely prepare such products. The instructions will have to specify the minimum internal temperature and any hold or "dwell" times for the products to ensure that they are fully cooked.
Al Almanza, USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety, said, "Labeling mechanically tenderized beef products and including cooking instructions on the package are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products. This commonsense change will lead to safer meals and fewer foodborne illnesses."
The new requirements 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 said it is accelerating the effective date instead of waiting until the next Uniform Compliance Date for Food Labeling Regulations, which is Jan. 1, 2018.
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, however, can introduce pathogens from the surface of the cut to the interior, making proper cooking of these products very important and different from intact cuts.
FSIS is finalizing these new labeling requirements because mechanically tenderized products look similar to intact products, but consumers need to know that the two types of products must be handled differently.
Since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has received reports of six outbreaks attributable to needle- or blade-tenderized beef products prepared in restaurants or homes. Failure to thoroughly cook a mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef product was a significant contributing factor in each of these outbreaks.
FSIS predicts that the changes brought about by this rule could prevent hundreds of illnesses every year.