We recently filed public comments with the USDA (PDF) about its proposed rules. We commended the agency recognizing that mechanically tenderized beef presents a higher safety risk than non-mechanically tenderized choices. The USDA plans to conduct a campaign to explain the significance of the term mechanically tenderized, and we think that’s essential to helping people enjoy these products safely.
As the USDA prepares a final set of rules, we have some recommendations to make sure the labels are as useful and effective as possible. The words mechanically tenderized and the cooking instructions should be highlighted in some way, such as placing a brightly colored sticker with that information right below the usual label. Currently, the proposed rules would let producers design their own label, but we think the labeling ought to be consistent and uniform.
We agree with the USDA that labels should have cooking instructions with explicit information on how to prepare the product to ensure it’s safe to eat. But we believe its proposed recommendation of cooking the beef to 145° F and letting it rest for three minutes should be revised. Based on recent studies, we think 160° F is necessary, and steaks should be flipped over twice during cooking.
Some meat processors and packers oppose the USDA's plan. The American Meat Institute recently said the proposed rules should be withdrawn from consideration. Yet some retailers are already labeling mechanically tenderized beef voluntarily. (Costco identifies such beef as "blade tenderized" on packages.)
We think the labels ought to be mandatory for all mechanically tenderized beef products, and we’re going to keep pressing to get the best labels possible.