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Is That Meat Mechanically Tenderized?

Is That Meat Mechanically Tenderized?


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USDA wants you to know about the meat you’re buying because it could contain E. coli

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When shopping for meat, it’s not easy to tell apart mechanically tenderized meat from non-mechanically tenderized meat. In fact, it's impossible. So the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing that mechanically tenderized meat be labeled so that we can tell the two apart, according to USA Today. But what is mechanically tenderized meat?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mechanically tenderized meat makes up 26 percent of all the beef sold in the U.S. It’s meat that has been poked with hundreds of tiny sharp blades or needles in order to make it more tender. But poking can also force bacterium like E. coli that may be on the surface deep inside the meat, and it doesn’t necessarily get cooked away.

E. coli and other bacteria live in animals like cattle and pigs. There have been five E. coli outbreaks due to mechanically tenderized meat. To date, 174 people have gotten sick and four have died from the outbreaks.

The labels will also include cooking instructions for mechanically tenderized meat. Usually, heat from cooking will kill any bacteria that remains on a meat’s surface. But USDA recommends that mechanically tenderized meat be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees. After cooking, it should sit for at least three minutes to make sure that any bacteria that may have been shoved inside is killed. Otherwise, it could still be there when you eat your steak or burger.


How to Avoid Getting Sick from Mechanically-Tenderized Meat

About a week after eating a medium-rare steak at a family restaurant, 87-year-old Margaret Lamkin of Iowa “started having diarrhea and it didn’t let up,” she told The Kansas City Star. Stricken with an E. coli O157:H7 infection, Lamkin was admitted to a hospital where she had her colon removed and was given a colostomy bag to use for the rest of her life.

“I had a very difficult time adapting to this bag, changing and cleaning,” she said. “Oh, we had so many accidents. It was just terrible,” she recalled.

Margaret Lamkin’s misfortune: the beef that she ate was contaminated with disease-causing bacteria by a process called mechanical tenderization and wasn’t cooked enough to kill the bacteria.

What is mechanical tenderization?

To make beef easier to chew (and to be able to charge a premium price), meat processors puncture raw beef with needles or blades to break down muscle fibers and connective tissue. About 11 percent of the beef sold in the United States is processed this way.

The problem

The needles or blades can push disease-causing bacteria from the surface of the meat deep into the muscle where the bacteria can survive if the meat isn’t cooked well enough. (Beef that isn’t mechanically tenderized doesn’t have bacteria deep inside the tissue.)

Six outbreaks of foodborne illnesses due to mechanically-tenderized beef, including one death, have been recorded since 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That doesn’t include additional outbreaks that were likely never reported or illnesses involving just one person.

Until now, consumers had little way of knowing if the kind of beef they were buying was mechanically tenderized and needed to be cooked more carefully. The needles and blades don’t leave traces and companies haven’t had to label the meat as tenderized.

Finally, after years of haggling and delay, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now requiring beef processors to label mechanically tenderized beef that’s sold to consumers and restaurants. And they must include on the label an explanation of the proper way to cook the meat to avoid getting sick.

(The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which publishes the Nutrition Action Healthletter, was one of the consumer groups pressing USDA to take action on this.)

So, now if you buy beef, look for any of these three terms on the label:

If you see any of these terms on the label, be sure to follow the cooking instructions to kill the bacteria that may be inside the meat. Most likely, the label will say to cook the beef to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F as measured by a meat thermometer and then let the meat sit off the heat for 3 more minutes. Or, it will say to cook it to 160 degrees F without having to let it sit for 3 minutes.

USDA is not requiring restaurants to notify their patrons if the beef they serve is mechanically tenderized. The agency’s reasoning: restaurants will recognize that the beef is mechanically tenderized and cook the meat properly. We’ll see.

As for Margaret Lamkin, her encounter with under-cooked mechanically-tenderized beef changed her life and not for the better. She stopped flying, avoids wearing dresses, and worries about infections and odors from her colostomy bag. And she doesn’t visit her grandchildren much anymore.

Find this article about safe eating interesting and useful? Nutrition Action Healthletter subscribers regularly get sound, timely information about staying healthy with diet and exercise, delicious recipes, and detailed analyses of the healthy and unhealthy foods in supermarkets and restaurants. If you’re not already subscribing to the world’s most popular nutrition newsletter, click here to join hundreds of thousands of fellow health-minded consumers.


Learn Three Techniques for Tenderizing Meat

Whether it’s a tender juicy steak or a fall-off-the-bone tender rib, tenderness is often equated with the quality of the meat. But the texture of meat has a lot less to do with quality, and a lot more to do with how the meat is treated both before and after hitting the grill. To better understand this, let’s look at the three main methods of tenderizing meat: mechanical, thermal, and enzymatic.

Mechanical tenderization involves pounding or piercing the meat with one of those medieval looking devices. The physical action is essentially pre-chewing the meat for you. I’m generally not a big fan of this technique because you’re not only breaking up the connective tissues that make meat tough you’re also breaking up the meat fibers themselves.

When it comes to tenderizing meat, Marc says that a meat mallet is not the only method you should consider.

While mechanical tenderization is fine if you’re trying to make your meat both thin and tender, such as for Chicken Fried Steak, or Wiener Schnitzel, it’s not so great for the grill.

If you’ve ever put a tough cut of meat in a slow cooker and opened it up later in the day to find a fork-tender pot roast, then you’re already familiar with thermal tenderization. In this method, heat breaks down the connective tissues, leaving you with melt-in-your-mouth tender meat.

From 140 degrees F and up, the collagen surrounding muscle fibers start shrinking and force out the juices in the meat. If you’ve ever had a well-done steak, you know that this makes the meat both dry and tough. But beyond 160 degrees F, the collagen begins to break down into gelatin, which not only replaces some of the lost moisture, it surrounds the individual fibers with a tender gel that loosely holds the muscle fibers together. This is the stage at which meat is “fork tender”.

When you barbecue ribs, grill them slow and low.

The heat can be dry heat (such as from a grill), or wet heat (such as in a braise), but it needs to be applied slowly, otherwise the outer surface of the meat will start burning before the collagen in the middle has fully broken down. Thermal tenderization is great for barbecuing ribs, brisket, or any other cut of meat with a lot of collagen, but it won’t do much for fillet mignon or pork chop. That’s because those cuts don’t have a ton of connective tissue to begin with, and you would never cook a steak or a chop long enough to breakdown the collagen they do contain.

The final method of tenderization and the one that most people are least familiar with is enzymatic tenderization. Enzymes are biological molecules that increase the rate of a reaction. In the case of dry-aging, natural enzymes found in the meat help break down the collagen over time. It results in a tender, flavorful piece of meat without altering the structure of the meat fibers.

The drawback is that it takes a long time (20+ days), and you’ll loose over 1/3 of the volume of meat because of moisture loss and the fact that you’ll need to trim the outer surfaces of the meat before cooking it.

Luckily there are other ways to achieve enzymatic tenderization. Many fruits such as kiwifruit, pineapple and papaya contain enzymes that have a tenderizing effect on meat. While it may not give you the same concentrated flavor that dry-aging will get you, fruit can be added to a marinade and it acts much faster. In the case of Bromelain, the enzyme found in pineapple, it’s so effective that it will turn your meat into mush if you let it marinate too long.

Use yellow kiwifruit to aid in the tenderization process. Green kiwifruit works as well.

My favorite fruit for tenderizing is kiwifruit because the Actinidin contained in kiwifruit is effective in breaking down connective tissues without turning the meat into mush. It also has a fairly neutral flavor that won’t significantly affect the taste of your marinade. Best of all, it’s easier to find, and cheaper than papaya (at least in my part of the world).

To use it, just add a tablespoon or two of kiwifruit puree into every cup of marinade. The tenderizing effect will depend on how much kiwifruit you add and how long you let it soak, but I’ve let meat sit in a kiwifruit infused marinade for up to a week without any negative effects on the texture of the meat.

Stay tuned next week for a Korean-style marinade that will make your beef irresistibly tender.

Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.


Revisiting - Costco and the mechanically tenderized steak?

Hi, I've read here at Chowhound and in addition seen plenty of verification elsewhere that steaks sold by Costco US are often mechanically tenderized (micro needling).

But I've also seen reports (second hand, never found anything from Costco itself) that Costco said it would label any steaks so tenderized as such.

My FIL in a fit of his usual wonderful generosity just gifted me with ten pounds of Costco NY Strip steaks. These are labeled USDA PRIME, and nothing else (that is, no mention of mechanical tenderizing, or not).

I've spent 20 minutes on The Google and can't figure out yet whether the reports are true that Costco will always label those steaks which have been mechanically tenderized, as such.

Does anyone have any definitive info or sources on this? Can I accept that steaks from Costco which don't mention mechanical tenderization have not been so treated?

I've inspected the meat up close with a magnifying glass (PRESBYOPIA IZZABITCH) and can't see anything. Not that I'm sure one could tell, anyway, on physical inspection?

And my gut tells me, "why would anyone mechanically tenderize PRIME meat?"

But while most of us are really robust, I do have one somewhat more fragile family member at the moment for whom a dose of E. coli O157 would be more than a passing matter. I can of course just serve her steak from my usual source, which certifies no needling. But I'd still like to try to figure this out.


The Food Label That Can't Come Soon Enough

The meat industry has a lot of dirty little secrets. Chicken producers add the carcinogenic heavy metal arsenic to chicken feed to speed growth. Poultry producers "enhance" their meats with brines that keep the meat moist when cooking but expose you to so much potassium that doctors are worried it could be raising rates of kidney failure. And beef producers routinely use a process called mechanical tenderization that increases the likelihood that you'll be exposed to E. coli bacteria.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has just proposed a new rule that could eliminate some of the risk of that last one. The agency has decided that any cuts of beef that have been mechanically tenderized need to be labeled so consumers can treat them carefully. The rule would also require beef producers to provide instructions on how to cook such beef so that any and all bacteria would be killed.

Mechanical tenderization is a risky process. The heavy use of antibiotics and the reliance on corn and other grains as feed produce tough meat, Sarah Klein, a senior attorney in the food-safety program at Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), told Rodale News earlier this year. So before that meat is sold, it's pierced with needles or blades that help cut tough muscle fibers. However, in doing so, she says, those needles or blades drive any bacteria that may be living on the exterior of a piece of meat farther into the flesh. So when that filet or T-bone reaches the restaurant and you order it medium-rare, the bacteria on the outside&mdashusually E. coli&mdashwill be killed when the steak is seared, but any E. coli that was driven into the flesh of the meat by needles or blades will continue to thrive.

The new labeling requirements will, at the very least, alert you to cuts of beef that have been tenderized so you (or the chef at your favorite restaurant) will know that those cuts need special handling. According to CSPI, you should cook mechanically tenderized beef until the internal temperature is at least 145ºF (160ºF is safest) and then let it rest for 3 minutes to let the heat destroy any lingering bacteria.

That simple difference in handling could save your life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked five separate E. coli outbreaks back to mechanically tenderized beef in the last 10 years, and in its own independent evaluations, CSPI has determined that half of the 82 outbreaks attributable to steak were caused by E. coli, the bacteria most likely to worm its way inside a mechanically tenderized cut of beef.

The new labels are currently undergoing a 60-day comment period, after which the USDA will determine when they should go into effect.

Until that happens, stick with grass-fed beef, which is raised with neither antibiotics nor corn and therefore, doesn't need to be mechanically tenderized. Buy from farmers certified by the American Grassfed Association.


Check This Important Label on Your Steak Before You Grill It

Some grocery-store steak now comes with an important new label, and knowing it's there may prevent you and your family from falling ill.

The new label says whether steak has been mechanically tenderized. In other words, a machine has punctured the meat with blades or needles to break down the muscle fibers, according to NPR. That makes it easier to chew and, according to some, more delicious. Costco, for example, tenderizes its steak.

But the process also allows bad stuff to enter the meat. If a pathogen like E. Coli or salmonella is on the surface of the steak, CNN explained, then tenderizing makes it easier for the pathogen to get inside the steak, where it's harder to kill during the cooking process.

Mechanical tenderizing, which takes place in about 11 percent of the beef that's sold, is responsible for at least six outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The label is important because the cuts in the meat are not visible to consumers.

"It doesn't look any different," a spokesman for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service told NPR. "It's not filled with [visible] holes from the needle piercings."

That's why the new label says: "Blade tenderized," followed by safe cooking instructions.

The new label went into effect May 17, although Costco has carried the label since 2012.


Tenderize the steak using a meat mallet. Pound the steak evenly from one end to the other with the coarser side of the mallet head. Use gentle force until you determine how much force is actually needed. Be careful not to over-tenderize it and create a hole in the steak, or make it difficult to pick up without tearing the meat. Your finished steak should be approximately ¼ - to ½-inch-thick from side to side and end-to-end.


What is mechanical tenderizing, and why is it hazardous to your steak?

A new label on some of the steaks in your grocery store highlights a production process you may have never heard of: mechanical tenderizing.

This means the beef has been punctured with blades or needles to break down the muscle fibers and make it easier to chew. But it also means the meat has a greater chance of being contaminated and making you sick.

The labels are a requirement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that went into effect this week.

“Blade tenderized,” that label might read, followed by safe cooking instructions: “Cook until steak reaches an internal temperature of 145°F as measured by a food thermometer and allow to rest for 3 minutes.”

Here’s how it can make you sick: If pathogens like E. coli or salmonella happen to be on the surface of the steak, tenderizing transfers those bacteria from the surface to the inside. Since the inside takes longer to cook and is more likely to be undercooked, bacteria have a higher chance for survival there.

And without a label, you can’t tell if you need to be especially careful with your steak.

“It doesn’t look any different,” said a spokesperson for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. “It’s not filled with holes from the needle piercings.”

Mechanical tenderizing is not an unusual occurrence. FSIS estimates that 2.7 billion pounds or about 11 percent of the beef labeled for sale has been mechanically tenderized. The new labels will affect an estimated 6.2 billion servings of steaks and roasts every year, according to FSIS.

The label on “blade tenderized” beef sold at Costco recommends 160 degrees as the minimum internal temperature, which doesn’t require a 3-minute rest time. Photo by Lydia Zuraw/Kaiser Health News

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked six outbreaks of foodborne illness since 2000 that were attributable to mechanically tenderized beef products prepared in restaurants and consumers’ homes.

In 2009, 21 people in 16 states were infected with the most common strain of dangerous E. coli called O157. Nine had to be hospitalized, and one victim developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal kidney disease. USDA food safety officials connected the illnesses to blade-tenderized steaks from National Steak and Poultry, and the company recalled 248,000 pounds of beef products.

“We need to improve how we tell consumers and the food service workers about the particular risks that would be involved in cooking it so that they can reduce the risk of illness,” said Patricia Buck, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Mechanical tenderizing is not an unusual occurrence. Buck, who has been pushing for the labeling rule since 2009 said she’s “very excited” to see it happening. “I think it’s an important step in the direction we need to go.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association “worked closely” with USDA on the label, said spokesman Chase Adams. “We will continue to work with them to provide helpful guidance for our members.”

Before the label became a requirement, Costco had been voluntarily labeling its meat. According to Consumer Reports, the grocery giant began labeling its mechanically tenderized beef in 2012 after an E. coli outbreak in Canada was linked to their blade-tenderized steaks.

Consumer advocate Buck lost her toddler grandson to an E. coli O157 infection in 2001. “I don’t like scaring people,” she said, “but on the other hand, people don’t really know that these can be really deadly pathogens.”

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. You can view the original report on its website.

Left: Costco had been voluntarily labeling its mechanically tenderized beef before USDA required it in May 2016. Photo by Lydia Zuraw/Kaiser Health News


Revisiting - Costco and the mechanically tenderized steak?

Hi, I've read here at Chowhound and in addition seen plenty of verification elsewhere that steaks sold by Costco US are often mechanically tenderized (micro needling).

But I've also seen reports (second hand, never found anything from Costco itself) that Costco said it would label any steaks so tenderized as such.

My FIL in a fit of his usual wonderful generosity just gifted me with ten pounds of Costco NY Strip steaks. These are labeled USDA PRIME, and nothing else (that is, no mention of mechanical tenderizing, or not).

I've spent 20 minutes on The Google and can't figure out yet whether the reports are true that Costco will always label those steaks which have been mechanically tenderized, as such.

Does anyone have any definitive info or sources on this? Can I accept that steaks from Costco which don't mention mechanical tenderization have not been so treated?

I've inspected the meat up close with a magnifying glass (PRESBYOPIA IZZABITCH) and can't see anything. Not that I'm sure one could tell, anyway, on physical inspection?

And my gut tells me, "why would anyone mechanically tenderize PRIME meat?"

But while most of us are really robust, I do have one somewhat more fragile family member at the moment for whom a dose of E. coli O157 would be more than a passing matter. I can of course just serve her steak from my usual source, which certifies no needling. But I'd still like to try to figure this out.


Conclusion

As you can see, you have a lot of options when it comes to tenderizing a steak. The best steak tenderizer for you just depends on your cut and how thick the steak is. Steak tenderizing doesn’t necessarily take very long, so it’s a great option for a meal in a hurry.

You can use salt for both flavor and tenderizing, or marinate your steak in a mix of soy sauce, vinegar, or citrus juice. Tender steak is a delightful meal, and you don’t have to break your budget buying fancy cuts to enjoy one! Using these 5 methods, you can tenderize a budget steak into a meal fit for a king.

About Scott

Scot Mac is a respected author of GoShindig.com. His wealth of experience in everything to do with outdoor entertaining makes him an expert in all the subjects covered on this site. He is a genuine all-rounder. Scott's past experience has been as an events organizer of a management company in Europe. Specifically for outdoor entertaining. BBQ grilling has later evolved as a passion and is another skill that makes him a perfect match for GoShindig.



Comments:

  1. Nikotaur

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  2. Roselyn

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  3. Ramm

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  4. Buck

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