Needle tenderized? No problemo; AMI asks for withdrawal of beef rule

The American Meat Institute has submitted comments recommending that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) withdraw its proposed rule requiring labeling on needle- or blade-tenderized beef products.

“The existing labeling scheme for products that have been needle injected or blade tenderized, with appropriate qualifying statements or tenderizingPageother label information, provides open and transparent information based on recognizable common and usual product names and should be kept,” the comments say.

The comments highlight, among other things, the safety record of mechanically tenderized (MT) products, as well the proposed rule’s potential to confuse consumers by changing the product name to include the mechanically tenderized distinction. 

AMI’s full comments are available at

Turkey on the table; praise be to Canadian Thanksgiving

I paid $9.50/kg for the Canadian Thanksgiving turkey we’ll be carving this Sunday afternoon (after reaching a thermometer-verified 165F or higher; I’m not one of those you-can’t-over-cook-a-turkey-that’s-what-the-gravy-is-for folks).

That’s about $4.50 a pound.

I told the butcher, one of the few to stock turkey (he also has crocodile and kangaroo) that in North America it would be aust.turkey.label_.12-225x300$0.99/pound. Market demand, I guess.

Turkey’s just not that big in Australia, even though we have dozens wandering the streets in our near-to-downtown Brisbane suburb.

The cooking instructions on the label are the same as last year – scientifically incorrect and suck. No safe cooking temperature, no thermometer advice, and says to wash the bird.

No one will be washing the bird in this house.

Last year we had about 30 people show up, and the locals were amazed by such a thing – a turkey.

Dr. Temple Grandin is featured in a video about the turkey industry designed to give the public a look at how the birds are raised, slaughtered and readied for Thanksgiving dinner.

The National Turkey Federation and the American Meat Institute paid for the video which features Grandin with a flock of 1,500 birds and takes the viewer all the way through the stunning and slaughter process.

I like the transparency. It undercuts any attempts at conspiracy theories.

But a 13-minute video? Edit it to two minutes.

My friend Jim Romahn asks, why hasn’t the Canadian turkey industry, which is far more organized than in the United States, done something like this long ago?

“I’m really pleased that the industry wanted the public to see this process because I think we need to show people how it’s just done right in a typical plant,” Grandin said in a news release.

“There’s a lot of good work going on in animal agriculture and I’m glad we’re telling our story openly and honestly.”  

Brunch will be served Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. Show up if you’re around.

Meat safety management in complex world

I’m at the L.A. airport and can’t get to Kansas City for my interview to prove I’m worthy to be a U.S. citizen because of snow. Bloody Marys and free Internet ease the angst (I don’t really have angst).

And I won’t be at the seminar by Scott Goltry, vice president, technical services, American Meat Institute at 4 pm today at Kansas State University. scott.goltry.ami.feb.13But that’s what the Internet is for.

Scott provides oversight to AMI’s packer and processor members on current and proposed inspection related issues. He is responsible for audit harmonization, food defense and sanitary design of facility and equipment initiatives at AMI. Scott is a Kansas native and K-State alum.

The seminar takes place at the Mara Conference Center, 4th Floors, Trotter Hall – College of Veterinary Medicine.

The live stream will be available at

Waiter, is that transglutaminase on my steak or you just happy to see me?

Food server, is there transglutaminase in that steak I just ordered?

That’s what the American Meat Institute says concerned consumers at the restaurant or some big banquet where they’re serving up lots of steaks.

I ask servers what rare and medium mean. They mutter. I ask them about thermometers. They dream about someone with far away eyes.

Tales of  transglutaminase, also known in the growing meat slang as meat glue, have been circulating on the Internet for years.

In March 2011, an Australian TV tabloid show called Today Tonight did what they called an exclusive expose on meat glue, where cheap cuts of meat were allegedly glued together and shaped to look like a fillet mignon.

Last week, ABC7 San Francisco, proclaimed they had “uncovered another meat industry practice that will have you looking twice at the meat you eat.”

Maybe ABC7 discovered the Internet, or watched tape (Beta) from Australia.

The San Fran folks did find a meat company owner, who wouldn’t go on camera, saying gluing meat is common practice in the industry and the most glued product by far is filet mignon destined for the food service industry.

ABC7 says it confirmed this with an industry trade group that meat glue is common where filet mignon is served in bulk — at a restaurant, banquet, cafeteria or hotel.

The problem is the outside of a piece of meat comes in contact with a lot of bacteria making its way from slaughterhouse to table. Usually cooking a steak on the outside will kill all that off. The center of a single cut of steak is sterile, that’s why you can eat it rare. But glue pieces of meat together and now bacteria like E. coli could be on the inside.

In the U.S., such an additive has to be labeled at retail – in really, really tiny print that I can’t read, even with my old-man glasses – but what about at a restaurant or a banquet hall?

"You bring up a valid point, and you know they may not see the label, but what they ought to do if they have concerns, and we understand that consumers, they want to understand where there food is coming from, they should ask their wait staff," says Dr. Betsy Booren of the American Meat Institute.

Janet Riley, a spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute told, “There’s just no way that gluing chunks of chuck meat together is going to give you filet mignon.”

It likely wouldn’t make economic sense for restaurants to go to the time and trouble to stick together scraps of meat, given the cost of the transglutaminase, which runs about $40 a pound wholesale, much more than any stew meat they might use.

“I don’t know where that would be happening; it would be a very expensive thing to do,” said Randall K. Phebus, an associate professor of animal sciences and industry at Kansas State University who specializes in food safety.

Surveys continue to mislead

 Saying that almost 1-in-5 Americans use a digital thermometer to determine whether a burger is safe to eat is as accurate as surveys that find upwards of 90 per cent of hospital employees wash their hands when they’re supposed to.

In a continuing demonstration of the futility of self-reported surveys, 19 per cent of Americans polled on behalf of the American Meat Institute say they use an instant-read thermometer to determine if beef or poultry burgers are safe to eat (160F and 165F respectively).

When some form of direct observation is used to evaluate medical handwashing rates, the numbers hover around 20 per cent – not 90 per cent. Some form of direct observation of thermometer usage would probably find a similar reduction – about 2 per cent of people actually use them.

I’m the first to praise Americans for advocating thermometer use and the first to taunt the Brits for their piping-hot-school-of-safe cooking, but self-reported surveys are a lousy indicator of what is actually going on in kitchens and cook-outs.

US proposes mandatory test-and-hold for meat

The Obama administration will, according to the Wall Street Journal, unveil a proposal Tuesday to force companies to delay sending beef, pork and poultry to grocery stores while government inspectors complete tests.

The USDA, in a statement slated to be released Tuesday, said it "inspects billions of pounds of meat, poultry and processed egg products annually" and it believes that "44 of the most serious recalls between 2007 and 2009 could have been prevented" if the proposed "test and hold" rule it is unveiling Tuesday had been in place.

"We believe this will result in fewer products with dangerous pathogens reaching store shelves and dinner tables," said Elisabeth Hagen, USDA undersecretary for food safety.

Many large meat packers including Cargill Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. already hold back product while Agriculture Department inspectors perform tests for dangerous bacteria.

"While we don’t typically favor more government regulation, we believe it makes sense in this case to mandate ‘test and hold’ for the whole industry," said Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods.

The tests usually take between 24 to 48 hours to conduct, but many companies won’t wait, sometimes resulting in recalls and serious illnesses.

"For Cargill, test and hold is a verification of our food safety interventions and processes," said Angie Siemens, vice president of technical services for Cargill Meat Solutions in Wichita, Kan.

The American Meat Institute, which represents most of the packing and processing industry in the U.S., said it strongly supports it.

Will E. coli O26 in beef recall lead to tightened rules?

William Neuman of the New York Times writes this morning that for the first time in the U.S., public health officials have linked ground beef to illnesses from a rare strain of E. coli, adding fuel to an already fierce debate over expanding federal rules meant to keep the toxic bacteria out of the meat supply.

Cargill Meat Solutions recalled 8,500 pounds of hamburger on Saturday after investigators determined that it was the likely source of a bacterial strain known as E. coli O26, which had sickened three people in Maine and New York.

Under federal rules, it is illegal to sell ground beef containing a more common strain of the bacteria, E. coli O157:H7, which has been responsible for thousands of illnesses, many deaths and the recall of millions of pounds of beef over the years. But federal regulators are now considering whether to give the same illegal status to at least six other E. coli strains, including O26, which can also make people violently sick.

The meat industry has opposed such a change, saying it is not needed. Among the arguments the industry has used was one stubborn fact: no outbreak in this country from the rarer strains of E. coli had ever been definitively tied to ground beef.

James Marsden, a professor of food safety and security at Kansas State University, said about the outbreak and recall,

“It might act as a catalyst. Clearly it’s back on the front burner, that’s for sure, and clearly USDA is under pressure.”

The federal Agriculture Department has been trying for several years to decide what to do about the additional strains of E. coli. The issue now falls in the lap of the Obama administration’s new head of food safety at the department, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, who was appointed last month.

Dr. Hagen has yet to say publicly what she plans to do. But in a written statement provided to The New York Times, she said, “In order to best prevent illnesses and deaths from dangerous E. coli in beef, our policies need to evolve to address a broader range of these pathogens, beyond E.coli O157:H7. … Our approach should ensure that public health and food safety policy keeps pace with the demonstrated advances in science and data about foodborne illness to best protect consumers.”

The agency has said that it is reluctant to make additional forms of toxic E. coli illegal in ground beef until it has developed a rapid test that can detect those strains in packing plants. Such tests are not expected to be ready until at least late next year.

The beef industry argued against declaring the additional E. coli strains illegal in an Aug. 18 letter that the American Meat Institute, a trade group, sent to the agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack.

Giving the strains illegal status could “cause more harm than good,” the letter said, by forcing costly testing when resources would be better spent on measures to prevent bacteria from getting into the meat in the first place.

It said that measures the industry had taken to combat the most common strain of E. coli were also effective against the other strains, and it urged the agency to conduct further studies before making a decision.

James H. Hodges, the meat institute’s executive vice president, said that a single outbreak did not alter the industry’s position.

“We have never said it wasn’t a potential public health problem. The debate is what’s the appropriate regulatory program.”

And once again, J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, going mano-a-mano with Stephen Colbert on issues like non-O157 STECs.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Better Know a Lobby – American Meat Institute
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election Fox News

Don’t eat poop, and if you do, cook it; American Meat Institute president on Colbert Report

After waking up in Brisbane Australia, we are now settled in Van Buren, Arkansas, just across the Oklahoma border after 30 hours of travel, on our way to a beach house in Florida.

It’s good to have free wireless Internet, 100 television channels and an all-you-can eat each inclusive breakfast in a suite with a king-sized bed for $83.

Life’s a beach (that’s Sorenne, left, at Surfer’s Paradise on Australia’s Gold Coast).

I especially missed my favorite Comedy Central programs while overseas, so settled down to a new episode of the Colbert Report, only to find J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, going mano-a-mano with Stephen Colbert and trying to answer the question, how does poop get into hamburger?
I’ll post the video as soon as it’s up at

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Better Know a Lobby – American Meat Institute
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election Fox News