June 8, 2013


US proposes labelling requirements for mechanically tenderised beef



USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has proposed labelling requirements for mechanically tenderised meat products, including validated cooking instructions.


This is according to Rachel Edelstein, FSIS assistant administrator in the Office of Policy and Programme Development.


Mechanically tenderised products that are fully cooked at FSIS-inspected establishments are exempt. During a media briefing Thursday (May 30) afternoon, Edelstein confirmed that FSIS had submitted the rule to the Federal Register.


"Currently intact and mechanically tenderised products may have the same product name, so consumers may not know that these products are mechanically tenderised," she said, explaining that the impetus for the rule was that "data shows consumers prefer rare beef."


The cooking instructions would recommend that mechanically tenderised beef be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees followed by a three-minute rest time. One-time costs to the processors are estimate to be about US$300 per label. The industry is not pleased with Thursday's announcement, though.


"Requiring that familiar products like 'sirloin steak' now be called 'mechanically tenderised sirloin steak' will lead consumers to believe that this product is new or different than those with which they are familiar," AMI Executive Vice President James H. Hodges said in a news release. "We would consider other labelling options that are validated through consumer research and shown to have a potentially meaningful impact on knowledge and behaviour. For example, the product would still be called sirloin steak, but additional information on the package might read 'mechanically tenderised' or 'contains enhancement solution with flavourings.'"


The move comes less than a month before federally registered plants in Canada that produce mechanically tenderised beef cuts will be required to label those products as tenderised and with cooking instructions. Some retailers, including Costco, have voluntarily indicated whether meat was blade-tenderised following an E. coli outbreak in Canada last year.


In October, FSIS said that the USDA was expecting to propose the new requirements. Though processors have used the mechanical tenderisation process extensively for years, only recently has it come under widespread public scrutiny. In a story in its June issue, Consumer Reports linked mechanically tenderised beef to at least five E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks between 2003 and 2009, citing Centres for Disease Control and Prevention data.


Since 2003 there have been nearly half a dozen outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to mechanically tenderised products. The rule is expected to be finalised some time in 2014. If so, it would be on track to be implemented by January 1, 2016.

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