Monday, October 29, 2012

Pressure building to label mechanically-tenderized meat

Pressure is building in Canada to force the meat industry to label mechanically-tenderized meats.

After Edmonton consumers of XL-produced beef that was mechanically tenderized were felled by food poisoning, Health Canada said it’s talking to retailers about labeling.

The science is clear that mechanically-tenderizing meats increases the risk of food poisoning, so it seems obvious that consumers ought to be made fully aware of the increased risk so they can be more cautious to cook the meat thoroughly.

There has been a long-term push by a few concerned people in the United States for labeling regulations there, but this is the first indication from Health Canada that it is actively considering the proposal.

CBC Marketplace featured research by Rick Holley at the University of Manitoba, showing how needles pushed into steaks and roasts to tenderize them before sale also push harmful bacteria from the meat surface to the interior.

Harmful bacteria on the surface are likely to be easily killed by normal cooking or barbecuing, but people who prefer “rare” or “medium” steaks and roasts are likely to be eating active bacteria.

There are 16 confirmed cases of people poisoned by E. coli 0157:H7 in beef from XL Foods Inc. of Brooks, Alta.

The company has been forced to recall the largest volume of beef in Canadian history and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency shut down the plant for a month so a thorough search for factors that led to the contamination and a cleanup of facilities and procedures.

Management of the plant has changed from the Nilsson family to JBS USA, a Brazilian company that now owns a significant percentage of the beef-processing business in the United States. JBS has an option to buy the XL business, which is the big plant at Brooks, two in the United States and a feedlot near Brooks, for $100 million.

Of the 16 people sickened, a number ate mechanically-tenderized steak marketed by a Costco store in Edmonton. None of the sickened people have died. Lawyers from several provinces are organizing a class-action lawsuit.