On June 10, 2013, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a proposed rule in the Federal Register: “Descriptive Designation for Needle- or Blade-Tenderized (Mechanically Tenderized) Beef Products.”

Under this proposal, producers of such raw or partially cooked beef products would have to label the products so as to apprise customers that the products have been “mechanically tenderized” as well as providing validated cooking instructions.

As to the label requirements, the product name for tenderized/injected beef products must include the descriptive designation “mechanically tenderized” and an accurate description of the beef component. This descriptive designation must be in the same style, color and size as the product name, and on a single-color contrasting background.

On the labeled cooking instructions, such instructions must:

  • Inform purchasers that these products need to be cooked,

  • Specify the method of cooking,

  • Specify the minimum internal temperature,

  • Specify whether the products need to be held at that minimum internal temperature for a specified time before consumption, and

  • Indicate that the internal temperature is to be determined through use of a thermometer.

The label requirements apply to both retail and foodservice beef products. If the product is repackaged by an official establishment or a retailer, the label of the repackaged product must bear all the information required above unless the product has been fully cooked. In the case of foodservice, FSIS will not regulate how these products are designated on menus.

Not only must the product be labeled with cooking instructions, the establishment must validate those instructions. To assist establishments on validation of cooking instructions, FSIS issued a compliance guide in conjunction with the rule: “FSIS Compliance Guideline for Validating Cooking Instructions for Mechanically Tenderized Beef Products.” 

According to the guide, if the establishment can demonstrate that the cooking instructions will achieve an acceptable time-temperature combination, there is no need for additional support, microbial or otherwise.

In its proposal, FSIS identified certain exemptions from the rule:

  • Product designated for cooking under inspection.

  • Marination without injection, e.g., tumbled products (though FSIS is asking if these products should be included).

  • Products made with other tenderization methods, e.g., cubed products.

  • Products made with transglutaminase enzyme (TG enzyme).

Although not addressed in the proposed rule, we understand that injected products subject to a standard of identity, such as corned beef, would also be exempt from this rule, though comments on this would be advisable.

Comments on the proposed rule (and the Compliance Guide) are due on Aug. 9, 2013. We understand that the trade associations are asking for a 120-day extension of the comment period — until Dec. 7. In support of these requests, the associations note that in the preamble to the proposal, FSIS makes 24 requests for specific comments and/or data. 

If FSIS determines to finalize the proposal and does so by the end of 2014, the effective date for the labeling requirement would be January 1, 2016 (under the Uniform Labeling Compliance Rule).