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Food Safety Research on Mechanically Tenderized Beef

This is a guest post written by Mark Klassen, Director of Technical Services for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Canada Beef Inc.

Mechanical tenderization is a process that typically utilizes a set of needles or blades which penetrate meat, cutting through muscle fibers and connective tissue to improve tenderness. Mechanical tenderization has been widely utilized in Canada to enhance the eating quality of beef for many years.

During the 2012 recall of beef from XL Foods Inc., there were five reported cases of illness thought to be associated with the consumption and/or handling of mechanically tenderized product. Consequently, Health Canada is now undertaking a risk assessment to examine the safety of mechanically tenderized beef and to provide guidance around cooking temperatures.

To ensure the best information is available to Government and the Canadian beef industry, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) has instigated further food safety research. The research is focused on four aspects related to the safety of mechanically tenderized beef. The first relates to measures to reduce the number of bacteria on the surface of the meat before tenderization using treatments already commonly employed by processing plants. Research is also being conducted to examine how best to clean tenderizing equipment, which can be challenging given the numerous blades or needles these machines contain.

Another major focus of the work is to confirm appropriate cooking temperatures. As an interim measure, Health Canada has recommended that tenderized beef products be cooked to 71oC (160oF), which is the same temperature recommended for ground beef. Previous research instigated by CCA indicated that lower cooking temperatures could be used to ensure food safety while preserving the benefits for eating quality of steaks and roasts. This issue will be examined further using both beef prepared for the study in the laboratory as well as commercial product.

Lastly, the research will examine how best to communicate cooking temperature recommendations to consumers. The objective of this component is to ensure the consumer will be well informed of food safety aspects such as cooking temperatures without raising undue concerns that might impact the purchase and enjoyment of Canadian beef.  Upon completion of the research later this year, data will be shared with the Government of Canada as well as the Canadian beef and cattle sector.

The research on mechanical tenderization is part of the E.coli O157:H7 Research and Education Strategy that was instigated by CCA following the XL Foods Inc. recall. The strategy incorporates studies looking at a broad range of measures which target the reduction of E.coli O157:H7 in beef products including mechanically tenderized beef. While data from the Public Health Agency of Canada indicates a declining trend in terms of illness related to E.coli O157, a further reduction in illness associated with beef products is the goal of the strategy. The research on mechanically tenderized beef was supported by funds from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA).

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