"Ensuring that consumers have effective tools and information is important in helping them protect their families against foodborne illness," said Undersecretary Elisabeth Hagen in a statement from the agency. "This proposed rule would enhance food safety by providing clear labeling of mechanically tenderized beef products and outlining new cooking instructions so that consumers and restaurants can safely prepare these products."
The proposed rule would require that mechanically tenderized beef is labeled so consumers know they are purchasing product that has been mechanically tenderized. The rule would also require the labels of mechanically tenderized product display validated cooking instructions, so that consumers have the information they need to cook this product in a way that destroys pathogens.
In a conference call announcing the proposal, Rachel Edelstein, assistant administrator with the office of policy and program development, said labeling of mechanically tenderized beef products would require product names to include the words “mechanically tenderized” as a descriptive designation on the label. Because some intact and mechanically tenderized products have the same name and are labeled the same, consumers and foodservice operators have no way of knowing the difference, she said.
Spelling out this in the name of the product is where the FSIS proposal goes wrong, according to officials with the American Meat Institute. AMI Executive Vice President James Hodges said the part of the proposal that would require validated cooking instructions is positive and an effort AMI supports.
“However, requiring that familiar products like ‘Sirloin Steak’ now be called ‘Mechanically Tenderized Sirloin Steak’ will lead consumers to believe that this product is new or different than those with which they are familiar,” Hodges said.
AMI suggests alternatives, he said.
“We would consider other labeling options that are validated through consumer research and shown to have a potentially meaningful impact on knowledge and behavior. For example, the product would still be called Sirloin Steak, but additional information on the package might read ‘Mechanically tenderized’ or ‘Contains enhancement solution with flavorings.’”
Edelstein noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked six disease outbreaks to needle or blade-tenderized beef products since 2000, and that inadequately cooking the products was the leading cause of the sicknesses.
“FSIS has recommended that mechanically tenderized products be cooked to 145°F for three minutes,” she said. The proposed requirements apply to raw and partially cooked needle or blade-tenderized products, including those injected with marinades. At foodservice operations, consumers would not be notified if the beef being served was mechanically tenderized, but the foodservice operators would be informed to ensure the products were cooked to the proposed temperatures using validated methods.
The proposal includes a cost-benefit analysis, and the cost for labeling was categorized as “fairly low” and that the rule would result in benefits. In terms of cost, Edelstein said the agency is estimating a one-time cost of $310 per label. The aggregate cost for the industry is estimated to be $1.05 million, which would be annualized at $140,000 per year.
If the agency is able to propose a final rule by the end of 2014, Jan. 1, 2016 would be the compliance date with the requirements, which Edelstein said should help minimize the burden of cost.