Mechanically Tenderized Beef

Apr 26, 2017

You may have heard or read something recently about new labeling requirements for meat that has been mechanically tenderized. We have had a few questions about it and wanted to help people understand what this really means.

What is mechanical tenderization? Mechanical tenderization is a process of inserting needles or blades into the meat to disrupt the muscle fibers, resulting in a more tender and enjoyable product. The tenderization process takes place in the processing plant; it is estimated that around 2.7 billion pounds of beef are mechanically tenderized each year. In other terms around 6.2 billion servings of steak and roasts are mechanically tenderized annually.

Why are we worried about it? Meat that is mechanically tenderized is safe to consume, just like any other product. However, special precautions should be taken to ensure the product is fully cooked to eliminate the possibility of a foodborne illness. If a product has any bacterial contamination, it is on the outside surface of the meat and rarely causes a problem because the outside gets the hottest and is fully cooked before it is consumed. The problem with tenderized cuts happens when the needles are inserted from the outside into the middle of the product. This creates the opportunity for bacteria to be transferred to the inside of a product. If it is not fully cooked, then bacteria on the inside of a product become a problem and can cause someone to get sick. Fully cooking meat eliminates the chance for foodborne illnesses to occur.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), the governmental organization tasked with ensuring food safety and wholesomeness, there have been six reported foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to mechanically tenderized meat, since the year 2000. Food safety is top priority in the meat industry and any food borne illness is unacceptable.

What has USDA changed? To reduce the chances of foodborne illness, the FSIS has introduced a new labeling requirement that requires mechanically tenderized products to state clearly on the product label that the product has been mechanically tenderized. They want to make sure that people who buy these steaks and roasts realize that they have been mechanically tenderized and that they follow the cooking recommendations and use a thermometer to ensure the product has reached a level that destroys pathogens. Mechanically tenderized meats should be cooked to at least 145 °F with a 3 minute rest period

 tenderizing infographic


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