The American Meat Institute (AMI) has recommended that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) withdraw its proposed rule, Descriptive Designation for Needle- or Blade-Tenderized (Mechanically Tenderized) Beef Products. That recommendation was submitted as part of AMI’s comments on the proposed rule.
“The existing labeling scheme for products that have been needle injected or blade tenderized, with appropriate qualifying statements or other label information, provides open and transparent information based on recognizable common and usual product names and should be kept,” the comments say.
The comments highlight the safety record of mechanically tenderized (MT) products, as well the proposed rule’s potential to confuse consumers by changing the product name to include the mechanically tenderized distinction. Instead, AMI recommended that FSIS focus on encouraging industry to use prevention technologies and Good Manufacturing Practices to render MT products as safe as possible. The comments also encouraged FSIS to examine the effectiveness of current safe handling labels to better inform consumers.
Mechanically Tenderized Beef Safety
AMI’s comments cite risk assessments done by FSIS in 2002, and updated in 2010, and by Canadian researchers in 2013 that showed little difference in the safety of MT products compared to intact beef. The comments also assert that since the last foodborne illness outbreak attributed to MT beef in 2009, the industry has taken several steps to improve product safety.
“It is telling that there has not been a single foodborne illness outbreak in the U.S. attributable to MT beef cuts in almost four years. That fact is directly related to the significant shift by the affected industry to more aggressively utilize a variety of effective interventions and processing practices when producing MT products,” the comments say.
No Need to Change Product Name
AMI argues that the rule’s requirement to include the term “mechanically tenderized” in the product name does not offer a food safety benefit and will only confuse consumers. It cites labeling requirements such as safe handling instructions and allergen labeling as examples of providing valuable food safety information on a package’s other than in the product’s name.
“Conveying the fact that a product has been subject to mechanical tenderization and therefore consumers should prepare the product differently than if it is intact can be accomplished just as easily through means other than requiring that term’s inclusion in the product name. Meat and poultry labels are replete with useful and often necessary information that is found on a product’s labeling, either on the [Principal Display Panel] or elsewhere.“
Reviewing Effectiveness of Safe Handling Instructions
The comments also recommend that, rather than requiring validated cooking instructions that might not fit how consumers like to cook a product, FSIS should review the effectiveness of the safe handling instructions with the goal of improving consumer handling and preparation of meat and poultry products. In that regard, the agency should consider amending the instructions to state that beef, veal, pork and lamb whole muscle roasts, steak and chops, which include marinated or needle tenderized beef products, be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit with a three minute rest period; ground meat be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit; and all poultry products, including ground poultry, be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
AMI’s full comments are available here.