Food & Drink

Why the USDA is putting a new warning label on beef, starting this week

By Carlos Frías

The USDA has mandated new labels on beef to note whether it was “mechanically tenderized.”
The USDA has mandated new labels on beef to note whether it was “mechanically tenderized.” (Emily Rasinski/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)

Here’s the newest reason to read the label when buying beef at the local grocery store: mechanically tenderized beef.

A new USDA-mandated label will start appearing on some cuts of beef this week, noting whether the meat was run through a machine that uses blades or needles to pierce and tenderize the meat, according to a story from Kaiser Health News. But read closely: The fact may be written in fine print.

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The process, which has been used for years, increases the chances of pathogens such as E. coli or salmonella from being passed from one piece of meat to the next. Plus, because the machine digs into the meat, the bacteria can be pushed further inside the meat — meaning it has to be cooked to a higher internal temperature, 145 degrees, to kill it.

“It doesn’t look any different,” a spokesman for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service told KHN. “It’s not filled with holes from the needle piercings.”

The most dangerous strain of E. coli infected 21 people in 2009 in an outbreak tied to so-called “blade tenderized” steaks, according to the story. About 11 percent of all beef sold is mechanically tenderized.

Read the full story here.

Researchers analyzed how groups of rod-shaped E. coli bacteria dissolve their own cell walls and then, after generations, rebuild them.