Meat labeling to look for in near future

Meat prices up by 10 percent compared to 2019.

Summer is in full swing, but before you throw steaks on the grill, listen up. Some steaks and roasts on store shelves have been mechanically tenderized. It is a process experts say can make the meat tastier, but until recently there were no rules in place to let consumers know if what they were buying had been tenderized.

Teri Gault, founder and CEO of, is a grocery savings expert. She stocks up on beef whenever it’s on sale.

“Because we eat it about once or twice a week,” she said.

While Teri knows all about how to save, one thing she didn’t know until recently is that some of the steaks and roasts on store shelves have been mechanically tenderized during processing.

“I had no idea. I don’t mind meat being tenderized but I need to know about it because it does bear on how I’m going to cook it,” said Gault.

And experts say Teri has the right idea. When beef is mechanically tenderized, needles or blades are used to break down the connective tissue in the meat, allowing for a more tender product but that could cause a potential issue.

“Basically the process is such that if there are pathogens present it will drive them into the inner muscle, and you just can’t tell by looking at products whether they’re mechanically tenderized or not,” said USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety, Alfred Almanza.

“Consumers need to know that this product is mechanically tenderized so they know they have to cook it differently. A mechanically tenderized steak needs to be cooked more thoroughly for sure,” said Chris Waldrop with the Food Policy Institute, Consumer Federation of America.

Starting next year, the USDA will require labels similar to these on all beef that has been mechanically tenderized.

“It’ll have two, two things on the label: number one it will have the cooking instructions, along with the rest time and it will also have the process in which it had been mechanically tenderized,” said Almanza.

Cooking instructions like minimum internal temperature and the time the beef should sit before you cut into it will be included on the labels along with terms like: mechanically tenderized, blade tenderized, or needle tenderized.

“Mechanically tenderized is the broad scope of the process. Blade tenderized is a more narrow focused where you’re just using a blade. Needle tenderized is generally associated with a marinated product,” explained Barry Carpenter of the North American Meat Institute.

Carpenter says tenderization enhances the quality of the meat for consumers and he points out the industry has taken steps on its own to reduce the risk that tenderization will transfer pathogens to the interior of the meat.

“The industry has done a number of things to improve the safety: more interventions to reduce the microbial load on product before it goes into the either blade tenderizing or the, the needle tenderizing process,” he said.

Consumer advocate Chris Waldrop believes the new labels are important but he says if you see one, it doesn’t mean you should put the package down and buy something else.

“I don’t think consumers need to avoid this product. I think they just need to cook it properly and the labeling and the instructions is going to help them do that,” said Waldrop.

That’s what Gault plans to do, and she is going to be on the lookout for labels.

“I’m glad it’s coming soon. I’m not one to normally like a lot of labeling because it usually ups the price of the food but I think this is important enough,” She said.

USDA Deputy Undersecretary Alfred Almanza says he expects the new labels to result in approximately 500 fewer illnesses per year. The rule goes into effect may of 2016, so in the meantime Almanza recommends cooking all steaks and roasts to the recommended 145 degree internal temperature with a three minute wait time before cutting into them.

If you think you have seen labels like this already, you are right. Costco has actually been voluntarily labeling the mechanically tenderized meat it sells for about two years.

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