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What is Mechanical Tenderization?

Beef recall underscores the problems with meat tenderizing practices.

Over two thousand pounds of beef were recalled on Apr. 11, with possible E. coli bacteria contamination. The shipments, from Town & Country Foods Inc. in Maine, contained both ground and tenderized beef. In response, some people have renewed their calls for better labeling of mechanically tenderized beef, due to the increased potential for contamination. Mechanical tenderization is used to break down the muscle fibers in tougher cuts of beef and pork, and also to inject marinade into meat. Food safety advocates say the process also increases the risk of foodborne illness by pushing bacteria further into the meat. Currently, there are no government regulations that require labels warning consumers of this danger. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture—two days before the recall—Connecticut Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro said, “Accurate and appropriate labeling is critical in enabling consumers to make informed purchase decisions and also in ensuring proper food handling and safety.” The meat industry doesn’t think labels are the answer, and calls for more analysis before the USDA enacts regulation. The government agency, itself, has been considering the issue since 2009, after a recall of 248,000 pounds of tenderized beef linked to E. coli infections in 16 states. Even without the labels, you can ensure a safe grilling season by cooking mechanically tenderized—and other “non-intact” meat like hamburger—to 160 degrees.

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