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USDA to Require Labeling of Mechanically Tenderized Beef

After years of bureaucratic delays and opposition from the meat industry, the federal government finally moved to require consumer safety labels on mechanically tenderized beef products.

The labeling rule comes after a 2012 project by The Kansas City Star that exposed a higher risk of food-borne pathogens for meat that has been run through mechanical tenderizers at meat plants.

The process, meant to improve the value of some beef products, has been shown to drive surface contaminants deeper into solid cuts of beef, where cooking is less likely to kill them.

“This is a long time in coming,” said Tony Corbo, a lobbyist for Food and Water Watch. “We are glad they are moving up the date to implement the new rule, but it still won’t take effect for another year.”

Canada implemented a similar rule months ago.

“Labeling mechanically tenderized beef products and including cooking instructions on the package are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products," Al Almanza, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s meat inspection division, said in a USDA statement.

The investigation by The Kansas City Star noted that even the meat industry acknowledged eight recalls between 2000 and 2009 that identified mechanically tenderized and marinated steaks as the culprit. Those recalls sickened at least 100 people, according to the American Meat Institute.

One victim was Margaret Lamkin, an 87-year-old grandmother who nearly died after eating a mechanically tenderized steak at an Applebee's restaurant. The illness destroyed Lamkin’s colon and required her to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of her life.

Food safety groups had been pushing for the new rules for years.

With no labels required on the products, restaurants and grocery stores that sold them were often unaware that cuts of beef had been mechanically tenderized and should be cooked at a higher internal temperature to insure all pathogens are killed.