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AMI to FSIS: Withdraw "Mechanically Tenderized" Rule

WASHINGTON—The American Meat Institute (AMI) is recommending that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) scrap a proposed rule that would require labels for meat that is pierced by needles or sharp blades.

Meat companies variably use blades or needles to break up muscle fiber and tough connective tissue, yielding a more tender cut.

AMI contends the requirement to include the term "mechanically tenderized" (MT) in the product's name is unnecessary because letting consumers know the meat has been subject to this process can be achieved through other means such as through the principal display panel.

The trade association also cites risk assessments that show a negligible difference in the safety of such meat compared to intact beef. According to AMI, a 2002 risk assessment from FSIS predicted only one MT illness for every 15.9 million servings of intact beef.

“It is telling that there has not been a single foodborne illness outbreak in the U.S. attributable to MT beef cuts in almost four years," AMI stated in comments filed on the proposed rule. "That fact is directly related to the significant shift by the affected industry to more aggressively utilize a variety of effective interventions and processing practices when producing MT products."

FSIS has warned the tenderization process may transfer pathogens on the outside of meat to the interior, increasing the risks of foodborne illness if the meat is not cooked properly. Such a concern is particularly relevant for certain meats like steak, which is often cooked rare or medium rare.

FSIS, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), believes specific labeling is likely to reduce illnesses.

The proposed rule also would require labels to display cooking instructions, so consumers can eliminate dangerous pathogens.

AMI has recommended the instructions should be amended, listing temperatures at which various cuts of meat and poultry should be cooked.

Since 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported five outbreaks linked to blade or needle tenderized beef products that were prepared in homes and restaurants.

"Failure to thoroughly cook a mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef product was a significant contributing factor in all of these outbreaks," FSIS stated in June at the time it solicited public comments on the rule.

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