There are new labeling requirements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that might show up on your package of steak. Producers now have to give you a heads up if your meat has been “mechanically tenderized.”
Meat producers know people like their meat tender, and so sometimes, they tenderize it for you. Tiny needles or blades pierce the meat so it is more tender after cooking.
Food safety expert Randy Phebus at Kansas State University has studied the process for decades.
“A big portion of the steaks that you buy at… steakhouses and food service [facilities], those are tenderized,” he said.
But research (from one of his former students, he proudly noted) showed that process can introduce bacteria into the center of the meat. He said that can make things riskier if you like your steak rare.
The USDA wants consumers to know when meat has been processed this way so people will hopefully take extra care to cook it properly.
“Previously, if you went to the store and you bought a steak,” said USDA’s Cathy Cochran, “you may not know that the product was mechanically tenderized. You can’t tell by looking at the surface of the product.”
With the new labeling requirements, you can tell by looking at the label, which should also note that it’s important to cook the meat to 145 degrees Fahrenheit and let it rest for a few minutes after cooking.
But even small changes to labels can have a hefty price tag for manufacturers. Mark Dopp is with the North American Meat Institute, which originally opposed the new labels, but is now working on compliance.
“Changing labels is not costless,” Dopp said. “Now, not every company makes this kind of product, so it doesn’t affect every company, but for those companies that it affects, we’re talking several million dollars.”
Those costs, of course, could end up being passed on to the consumer.