WASHINGTON – In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a coalition of consumer and public health groups urged Vilsack to immediately approve a proposal to label mechanically tenderized beef products, which the group claims are “higher risk”.

The Safe Food Coalition said labeling mechanically tenderized beef products will help consumers make informed decisions about food purchases and steps they should take to safely handle or prepare such items.

“As you know, mechanically tenderized products (such as steaks and roasts) have been treated with a process that repeatedly inserts small needles or blades into the product,” the letter stated. “These needles or blades pierce the surface of the product increasing the risk that any pathogens located on the surface of the product can be transferred to the interior.

“Consumers need to be provided with labeling information so that they can make appropriate selections and take the necessary steps in handling and cooking these products,” the letter stated.

Members of the Safe Food Coalition have been advocating labels for mechanically tenderized beef since 2009 when in December of that year an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 sickened more than 21 people across 16 states. Mechanically tenderized steaks from were identified as the source of the outbreak, and approximately 248,000 lbs. of the product were recalled.