USDA finalizes mechanically tenderized meat label rule

The Obama administration finalized a rule Wednesday that will require meat packers to label beef that is mechanically tenderized.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said consumers, restaurants and other food service facilities will now have more information about the products they buy, as well as how to safely prepare them. The rule requires tenderized meat labels to include proper cooking instructions.

Instead of waiting until the next uniform compliance date for food labeling regulations, which is January 1, 2018, FSIS said the rules will take effect in May 2016.

Food safety advocates were pushing the administration to finalize the rules before the end of 2014 for fear that waiting until 2015 would push implementation to 2018.

In a news release, members of the Food Safety Coalition said they are happy FSIS accelerated the implementation process.

Mechanically tenderized beef products, like steaks and roasts, the coalition said are repeatedly pierced by small needles or blades, which increases the risk that pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella located on the surface of the product will be transferred to the meat’s interior. 

“Since mechanically tenderized products look no different than intact products, consumers have no way of knowing that the product must be cooked to a higher internal temperature to ensure safety,” the coalition said in a news release.   

Since 2000, USDA said it the Center Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of six 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 each of these outbreaks,” the agency said in a release.

Under the new rule, the cooking instructions must specify the minimum internal temperatures and any time the product must sit to ensure it’s fully cooked.