The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is proposing new requirements for labeling beef products that have been mechanically tenderized, including adding new cooking instructions, so that consumers can safely enjoy these products.

"Ensuring that consumers have effective tools and information is important in helping them protect their families against foodborne illness," said Under Secretary Elisabeth Hagen. "This proposed rule would enhance food safety by providing clear labeling of mechanically-tenderized beef products and outlining new cooking instructions so that consumers and restaurants can safely prepare these products."

To increase tenderness, some cuts of beef go through a process known as mechanical tenderization, during which they are pierced by needles or sharp blades in order to break up muscle fibers. Research has shown that this process may transfer pathogens present on the outside of the cut to the interior. Because of the possible presence of pathogens in the interior of the product, mechanically tenderized beef products may pose a greater threat to public health than intact beef products, if they are not cooked properly.

The proposed rule would require that mechanically tenderized product is labeled so that consumers know they are purchasing product that has been mechanically tenderized. The rule would also require the labels of mechanically tenderized product to display validated cooking instructions, so that consumers have the information they need to cook this product in a way that destroys illness-causing pathogens.

Since 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of five 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 all of these outbreaks. In developing this proposed rule, FSIS used data from its own research, from the Agricultural Research Service, and from the CDC to determine the public health risk associated with undercooking mechanically tenderized products, and the benefits of the proposed rule.

The proposal was posted today on the FSIS website at
and soon will publish in the Federal Register. The comment period will end 60 days after the proposal publishes in the Federal Register and must be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at, or by mail to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), FSIS, OPPD, RIMD, Docket Clearance Unit, Patriots Plaza III, Room 8-164, 355 E Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-3221. All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the Agency name and docket number, which will be assigned when it is published in the Federal Register.

The American Meat Institute has responded to the proposal, noting that the proposal was partially correct, but other provisions contained within it are mostly wrong.

“The valuable component in USDA’s new proposed rule is a requirement that these products include validated cooking instructions. We support this effort and think that safe handling labels on all products should be reviewed and improved given data showing that existing, mandatory labels have had little impact on consumer knowledge and behavior,” according to AMI Executive Vice President James. H. Hodges.

“However, requiring that familiar products like ‘Sirloin Steak’ now be called ‘Mechanically Tenderized Sirloin Steak’ will lead consumers to believe that this product is new or different than those with which they are familiar.  If, for example, Ford were suddenly forced to call an Explorer a ‘Robotically Assembled Ford Explorer,’ a buyer might think the car has been significantly changed. ” Hodges added.

“We would consider other labeling options that are validated through consumer research and shown to have a potentially meaningful impact on knowledge and behavior,” he continued. “For example, the product would still be called Sirloin Steak, but additional information on the package might read ‘Mechanically tenderized’ or ‘Contains enhancement solution with flavorings.’”

Mechanical tenderization uses blades to mechanically tenderize meat just as the consumer would pierce meat or poultry with a fork in the home kitchen.  In some cases, a marinade or solution is added.  These have historically been considered two very different types of tenderized products. 

According to the AMI, USDA’s data show that both types of products have excellent food safety records, but where there have been concerns, they have been almost exclusively linked to products that include an added solution.  USDA’s proposal inappropriately treats the two in identical fashion.   In USDA’s proposed rule, the agency notes that 174 of 176 illnesses linked to tenderized products over the last decade have been linked to products that contained an added solution.  During this same period, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 480 million foodborne illnesses occurred from all foods.

“It is troubling that USDA is taking a one size fits all approach to this diverse category of products,” Hodges said.  “Both types of products deliver safe, tender and flavorful products to the consumer.”

Sources: FSIS, AMI