Consultation on Mandatory Labeling of Mechanically Tenderized Beef

The proposed regulatory amendments to the Canadian Food and Drugs Regulations to require the mandatory labeling of mechanically tenderized beef, when available for sale in Canada, were recently published in part I of the Canada Gazette.

Proposed mandatory labeling requirements for mechanically tenderized beef

What do the proposed regulations include?

  • a definition of “mechanically tenderized beef;”
  • a prohibition of the sale of mechanically tenderized beef in Canada unless the package’s principle display panel fulfills the following labelling requirements :
    • inclusion of the expression “mechanically tenderized added to the common name of the product ensuring optimum legibility;”
    • instructions to cook to a minimum internal temperature of 63°C; and
    • additional instructions, if the mechanically tenderized beef is in the form of a steak, to turn the steak over at least twice during cooking.

The proposed changes would take effect once the consultation is completed and three (3) months after the publication of the final regulation in Part II of the Canada Gazette.

Why these changes?

This mandatory labeling requirement is meant to assist consumers in identifying mechanically tenderized beef products and to provide them with safe cooking instructions to help minimize the potential risk of food-borne illness.

In 2012, 18 cases of food-borne illness caused by Escherichia coli O157 (E. coli O157) were reported as part of a Canadian outbreak associated with contaminated XL Foods Inc. beef. During the food safety investigation following the outbreak, several cases were considered to be likely associated with the consumption of mechanically tenderized beef produced at the retail level. Health Canada decided to initiate a risk assessment of mechanically tenderized beef and to make recommendations concerning the handling of these products.

Mechanical tenderization of meat is a common practice and has been used by processors, food services and retailers for many years to improve the tenderness and flavour of cooked beef. The process of mechanically tenderizing meat involves using instruments such as needles or blades to break down, penetrate or pierce the surface of the meat cut. The process may also involve the injection of a marinade or tenderizing solution into the beef.

If the surface of the meat is contaminated with bacteria, it is possible to assume that the risk posed to consumers would increase, given that harmful bacteria can be transferred from the surface to the centre of the meat during tenderization.

Consumers are not able to identify through just looking at the meat product whether it has undergone this process.

Labelling would be the only means that would alert consumers that this process has been used and therefore potentially guide them to follow handling and cooking instructions that would help mitigate the risk.

Proposed regulations supported by a Science-driven process:

In May 2013, Health Canada completed the health risk assessment on E. coli O157 in Mechanically tenderized beef. The results from the assessment showed a five fold increase in risk from these products when compared to intact cuts of beef. The presence of the E. coli O157 strain is known to make people sick, causing severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Furthermore, serious complications of an E. coli O157 infection can include kidney failure. The assessment also identified that without labels, it is difficult for Canadians to identify which products have been mechanically tenderized.

The health risk assessment, Findings of the Health Risk Assessment of Escherichia coli O157 in Mechanically Tenderized Beef Products in Canada was published on May 28, 2013 in the International Food Risk Analysis Journal and can be accessed freely: Health Risk Assessment supporting the proposed regulatory changes

Following the 2012 outbreak, Health Canada along with the Public Health Agency of Canada released an interim recommendation encouraging Canadians to cook mechanically tenderized steak and beef cuts to an internal temperature of at least 71°C (160°F).

Since then, new scientific research specific to mechanically tenderized beef has supported new cooking recommendations to achieve better protection for consumers of these products. These include cooking these products to a minimal internal temperature of 63°C (145°F) and flipping steaks at least twice during cooking to achieve a consistent temperature throughout.

Broader context of this measure :

On May 17, 2013, as part of the Safe Food for Canadians Action Plan, the Government of Canada announced plans to implement mandatory labelling requirements for all mechanically tenderized beef products sold in Canada. Following this announcement, the CFIA amended its Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures (MOP) under the Meat Inspection Regulations, 1990 (MIR) to mandate federally registered plants that produce cuts that were mechanically tenderized to label those products as “mechanically tenderized” and provide cooking instructions. Consequently, federally registered processors and many national retailers are complying with the requirements, but non-federally registered processors and small grocery retailers, including butcher shops are not included. This regulatory change is intended to bridge this regulatory gap.

This proposed regulation also furthers commitments the Government of Canada has made under the Healthy and Safe Food for Canadians Framework, announced by the Federal Minister of Health in November 2013, which supports providing information for Canadians to make informed decisions and to promote safe cooking and handling of food. This is what is intended through providing consistent labelling information on mechanically tenderized beef products.

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