A recall of more than 2,057 pounds of ground and tenderized beef from Town and Country Foods, Inc. of Greene, Maine, has reopened concerns that E.coli may be spread by the blades or needles used to tenderize certain cuts of meat.
So-called "tougher" cuts of beef or pork that may need extra help to break down muscle fibers are often subjected to a process called mechanical tenderization, where mechanisms wielding blades or needles pierce and pound the cuts. These machines can spread bacteria deep into the cuts, increasing the risk of an E.coli flare up. Roughly 50 million pounds of mechanically tenderized beef is produced each month.
Despite the mass production of – and health risks associated with – mechanically tenderized meats, it is not required to be labeled. Although, federal officials do advise that consumers cook "non-intact" meats at a higher temperature for safety, this is not labeled either.
"Accurate and appropriate labeling is critical in enabling consumers to make informed purchase decisions and also in ensuring proper food handling and safety," said Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro in her letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture two days before the recall of Town and Country's beef.
Representative DeLauro's views are shared by Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, the U.S. secretary of food safety, as she told congress in March that tenderized beef and other meats should be appropriately labeled.
Opponents of the movement to clarify these food labels include Dr. Richard Raymond, the former secretary of food safety. Raymond believes that the health risks in concern have not been reported enough to make it a factor, especially compared to the volume of the product.
Although the topic is still being debated on Capitol Hill, local butchers and grocers who wish to design custom labels for their cuts of meat that have been tenderized may want to invest in a color label printer to give customers the clarity they may need to make the best decisions.