Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Labels coming for risky beef

Soon beef steaks and roasts marketed in supermarkets in the United States will be labeled to indicate that they have been mechanically tenderized, says the Food Safety Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.

It might have helped Edmontonians who bought steaks at a local Costco store because they were mechanically tenderized and a number of people who barbecued and ate them ended up in hospital with E. coli 0157:H7 food poisoning.

How were they to know that bacteria on the surface of the beef was driven inside by needles used to tenderize the steaks from XL Foods Inc. of Brooks, Alta.?

While the U.S. is moving ahead, there's nary a word from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on the proposal to label mechanically-tenderized beef.

However, any Canadian plant that ships to the U.S. will have to comply with U.S. labeling requirements. As for Canadians, we might have to continue to take our chances, or cook everything until it's tough as shoe leather.

The XL beef has all been recalled now, starting with ground beef, then including steaks and roasts after the mechanical-tenderizing issue surfaced.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service says it sent its proposals to the Office of Management and Budget on Sept. 10. The proposals could be published for public reaction within the next three months.

Rachel Edelstein, acting assistant in the FSIS Administrator Office for Policy and Program Development said in answer to a question during a conference in Chicago, said that under the proposed rules, processors who mechanically tenderize products such as steaks and roasts must decide (and indicate on its labels) the temperature to which its products must be cooked to eliminate pathogens.

Her comment caused concern from further processors who create products such as tenderized steaks for large foodservice chains, reports Meatingplace Magazine on its daily website news report.

“They voiced concern about whether or not they would have to label these products instructing cooking to 165 degrees, which would make them unsuitable for serving rare or medium rare,” Meatingplace said.

“Edelstein acknowledged that was a valid concern.”

Asked, however, if those label cooking instructions could take into account the confidence the plant has in its own pathogen interventions, Edelstein said yes. 

She said that would be information the plants could take into account when they develop their cooking instruction labels for their products.

One wonders how much confidence XL Foods Inc. and Maple Leaf Foods Inc. have in their pathogen interventions.