The Safe Food Coalition has again written to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging action on required labeling for mechanically tenderized non-intact beef products. Here are two statements from the USDA website on pathogen risk related to mechanically tenderized non-intact beef.

“Due to the low probability of pathogenic organisms being present in or migrating from the external surface to the interior of beef muscle, cuts of intact muscle (steaks) should be safe if the external surfaces are exposed to temperatures sufficient to effect a cooked color change. However, if the surface of an intact muscle or muscle system is violated by mechanical tenderization (blade tenderization), contamination may be carried from the surface to the interior of the cut.”[1]

"In many cases non-intact raw beef products present a significant public health risk because they are eaten rare or medium. E. coli O157:H7 organisms may be introduced below the product's surface by chopping, grinding, mincing, flaking, injecting with solutions, marinating, corning, mechanically tenderizing, needling, cubing, frenching, pounding, or reconstructing into formed products. Therefore, the customary preparation of these products, cooking at an insufficient internal temperature, does not destroy E. coli O157:H7 and these products are not rendered safe under normal consumer preparation practices."[2]

In July 2009, the Journal of Food Protection published the Luchansky study which evaluates the risk of E. coli O157:H7 transmission via mechanically tenderized beef steaks at varying cooking temperature levels.

 Luchansky, Porto-Fett, et al.,Thermal Inactivation of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Blade-Tenderized Beef Steaks Cooked on a Commercial Open-Flame Gas Grill , Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 72, No. 7, July 2009.

ABSTRACT: Beef subprimals were inoculated on the lean side with ca. 4.0 log CFU/g of a cocktail of rifampin-resistant (Rifr) Escherichia coli O157:H7 strains and then passed once through a mechanical blade tenderizer with the lean side facing upward. Inoculated subprimals that were not tenderized served as controls. Two core samples were removed from each of three tenderized subprimals and cut into six consecutive segments starting from the inoculated side. A total of six cores were also obtained from control subprimals, but only segment 1 (topmost) was sampled. Levels of E. coli O157:H7 recovered from segment 1 were 3.81 log CFU/g for the control subprimals and 3.36 log CFU/g for tenderized subprimals. The percentage of cells recovered in segment 2 was ca. 25-fold lower than levels recovered from segment 1, but E. coli O157:H7 was recovered from all six segments of the cores obtained from tenderized subprimals. In phase II, lean-side-inoculated (ca. 4.0 log CFU/g), single-pass tenderized subprimals were cut into steaks of various thicknesses (1.91 cm [0.75 in.], 2.54 cm [1.0 in.], and 3.18 cm [1.25 in.]) that were subsequently cooked on a commercial open-flame gas grill to internal temperatures of 48.8°C (120°F), 54.4°C (130°F), and 60°C (140°F). In general, regardless of temperature or thickness, we observed about a 2.6- to 4.2-log CFU/g reduction in pathogen levels following cooking. These data validate that cooking on a commercial gas grill is effective at eliminating relatively low levels of the pathogen that may be distributed throughout a blade-tenderized steak.

Readers who are IAFP Members or who have journal data-base access should read the entire article which we, of course, cannot post due to copyright restrictions.

We Post the Safe Food Coalition letter of August 24 below:

[1] Salmonella spp. Risk Assessment for Production and Cooking of Blade Tenderized Prime Rib, USDA-FSIS, July 18, 2001.   accessed 0825/12

(2)  E. coli O157:H7 Non-intact Beef Products Consumer Cooking Practices – Supporting Hazard Analysis, April, 19, 2009.

  http://askfsis.custhelp.comm/app/answers/details/a_id/1218/related/1  accessed 8/25/12