Food Safety Attorney William Marler Calls for FSIS to Label Mechanically Tenderized Steaks


Safe food attorney Bill Marler has called for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to label meats that have undergone mechanical tenderization. The controversial process has been linked to numerous outbreaks of the dangerous pathogen E. coli O157:H7, yet there is currently no disclosure required.

“Meats that are considered ‘intact’ by the FSIS have different E. coli regulations,” explained Marler. “The assumption is that the E. coli pathogen, if present, would only be on the outside of the cut, and would be killed by minimal cooking. However if needles or blades drive those bacteria into the center of the meat, only thorough cooking of the steak would make it safe, something few people do. That’s why the FSIS must take the steps laid out by the Make Our Food Safe Coalition:

• Issue a press release indicating that the current cooking guidelines and temperatures for intact beef products are not safe for all beef products that look intact. [Specifically, that mechanically tenderized steaks should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, just like hamburger.]

• Take immediate steps to develop regulation that will require labeling to clearly identify mechanically tenderized, non-intact beef and pork products for all processing facilities, retail purchasers and consumers.

• Initiate a FSIS program to assess the effectiveness of public health messaging, so that effective food safety messages can be delivered to all food safety stakeholders.”

The most recent E. coli outbreak tied to mechanically tenderized steaks is National Steak and Poultry, which recalled 248,000 pounds of tenderized meat products on Christmas Eve 2009. To date, the CDC has confirmed 21 people in 16 states infected with the E. coli strain linked to the product. Marler Clark has filed an E. coli lawsuit on behalf of a 14-year-old boy hospitalized by his E. coli infection from National Steak and Poultry meats.

In March 2003, there were six E. coli illnesses linked to mechanically tenderized steaks from Stampede Meat. An August 2004 recall of a similar product by Quantum foods was linked to E. coli illnesses at Applebee’s in Colorado. Davis Creek Meats and Seafood recalled 130,000 pounds of beef products in May 2007 that were subsequently linked to E. coli illnesses, and also in 2007, the Fresno Meat Market outbreak was linked to tenderized, cooked tri-tip purchased at the store.

In September 2008, a fundraiser for the volunteer fire department in Forest Ranch, CA was the source of an E. coli outbreak that sickened 24 people, including a 6-year-old girl who had to be airlifted to US Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Health officials pinpointed tenderized tri-tip served at the event.

“Studies have shown that the mechanical tenderization process can transfer contamination into the core of the meat,” continued Marler. “However, the FSIS only has to look at the human evidence – the growing list of those sickened by these meats – to realize that change is imperative.”