Don’t let mechanically tenderized beef ruin your Memorial Day
Some of hungry partygoers at your Memorial Day gathering this weekend might be crying out, Where’s the beef!?! But from a food-safety perspective, a more salient question is, How well done is the beef?
That’s because some steaks and other cuts of beef you cook might have been mechanically tenderized, or bladed, a process that can drive bacteria such as the deadly E. coli O157:H7 from the surface of the meat into its center, where they are harder to kill. And that can increase the risk of illness if your steak is not cooked until it is well done. (As you can see in the video above, mechanically tenderized beef is run through a machine that punctures them with blades or needles.)
You can’t tell just by looking at a piece of meat whether it’s been mechanically tenderized, and producers are not required to label beef as such. Meijer and Whole Foods claim that they don’t sell any mechanically tenderized beef. Costco says that except for its filets and flank steaks, it mechanically tenderizes all of its beef. (The warehouse club is one of the few retailers to voluntarily disclose on beef packaging whether the meat has been “blade tenderized.” Click to see a larger version of the label.) Asking retailers whether the beef you’re buying has been mechanically tenderized can at least help raise awareness of customer concerns and increase pressure for mandatory disclosure on labels.
To reduce the risk of illness, cook mechanically tenderized beef to a minimum internal temperature of 160° F just like a hamburger, rather than to the 145° F (medium-rare) that the USDA recommends for steak that hasn’t been run through a tenderizing machine. And to be safe, use a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the steak to determine doneness. (Read our important food-safety advice for cooking turkey (click on “What you can do”).