WASHINGTON — Last week, National Steak and Poultry, Owasso, Okla. announced a voluntary recall of approximately 248,000 lbs. of beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
U.S.D.A.’s Food Safety and Inspection Service determined, while working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health and agriculture departments, there is an association between non-intact steaks (blade-tenderized before further processing) and illnesses in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota and Washington.
In responding to calls now being made to label mechanically-tenderized steaks, James H. Hodges, executive vice-president of the American Meat Institute, said U.S.D.A. officials have clearly affirmed that blade-tenderized steaks are comparable in safety to steaks that have not been mechanically tenderized.
"U.S.D.A. scientists and public health experts have studied this steak tenderization process thoroughly, Mr. Hodges said. "In 2008, F.S.I.S. said, ‘The risk of illness from E. coli O157:H7 in non-intact beef steaks is not significantly higher than intact beef steaks.’ [Dr. Carl Schroeder, presentation "F.S.I.S. Risk Assessments for E. coli O157:H7," April 9, 2008].
Mr. Hodges went on to explain that all steaks in retail stores — whether blade-tenderized or not — must bear safe-handling labels instructing consumers how to cook and handle them to ensure they are safe when served.
"Because blade-tenderized steaks have been found to be comparable in safety, we don’t believe that special labeling declaring the mechanical-tenderization process will provide meaningful or actionable information to consumers," he said. "A thorough investigation of illness outbreaks associated with the recalled tenderized products should be conducted to determine the cause of the outbreak. A.M.I. will continue to seek ways to improve the safety of these products."