How is a rare burger defined? Why there’s no such thing as simple food safety advice

The UK Food Standards Agency is full of food safety contradictions: cook meat until it is piping hot; wash watercress to avoid E. coli; and, pink steaks are safe.

Back in August, according to the Daily Mail, district judge Elizabeth Roscoe ruled that London-based Davey’s could continue to serve tenderizingPagerare beefburgers, rejecting claims they were a health risk.

“There is a balance to be struck between ensuring the safety of the public and allowing them the freedom of choice that they would wish and have a right to expect.”

The council wanted Davy’s beef supplier to sear and shave the outside of whole cuts of meat to remove any harmful bugs.

Davy’s argued that its suppliers could be trusted to supply beef that could be safely eaten.

But Westminster council’s food safety chief James Armitage, “We are not saying burgers should not be eaten rare  or medium – merely that they should be prepared in a way that makes them as safe as practicably possible.”

What are those controls?

Before the judge’s ruling, the Daily Mail published a bit about how FSA was going to advise that all meat be cooked until no pink remained.

Color is a lousy indicator.

Stephen Humphreys, director of communications at FSA, explained, “We have issued no guidance that would prevent steaks being served rare, we have no plans to do so and why would we?

Steak is safe to eat ‘rare’. Whole cuts of beef or lamb, steaks, cutlets and joints only have germs on the outside, so as long as the outside is cooked any potentially harmful germs that could cause food poisoning will be killed.”

Not quite.

Steaks that have been needle tenderized have the albeit-low potential for pathogens to be entered into the meat, and requiring a higher cooking temperature.

Food safety advice is never simple.

Who wants a hockey puck for a roast?

I spent the last two hours doing my annual talk and chat session with summer public health students, invoking in them the capacity to care; public health’t glamorous, but it matters.

Contrary to what Kansas State University admin types may think, the stagecoaches manage to run through Brisbane at 1 a.m.

Somehow I also managed to comment on needle tenderized beef, while not physically in Manhattan (the Kansas version) even though I’ve been there the majority of the last four months.

And I made a hockey analogy.

I even had a guy visit me at the house yesterday to talk food safety, and he asked me to show him a hockey puck.

I did.

Elizabeth Weise writes in USA Today today that after years of food-safety concerns and at least five outbreaks of illness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing that mechanically tenderized meat — 26% of all the beef sold in the USA — be labeled as such and that labels include cooking instructions.

Tenderizing meat mechanically involves forcing hundreds of tiny blades or needles through it to break up muscle fibers and make it more tender.

Unfortunately, it can also drive pathogens that might be on the surface, such as E. coli O157:H7, deep into the cut’s interior, where cooking may not kill them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have braun.hockeybeen five E. coli outbreaks attributed to mechanically tenderized beef, sickening 174 people. Four died.

It’s impossible to tell just by looking that a cut of meat has undergone mechanical tenderization, said USDA Undersecretary Elisabeth Hagen.

“When people buy cube steak, you see the marks where the machinery has cubed up the steak,” Hagen said. “When people buy ground beef, they know they’re getting ground product. But when people order this product, they don’t know. And certainly, when people are ordering in a restaurant, they don’t know they’re ordering this product.”

She added, “A lot of people want a medium-rare steak. But if folks knew that the steak they’re buying might not be what they think it is, and might be in a higher risk category,” they might want it well done.

Some stores do label the product. Costco labels mechanically tenderized beef it sells as “blade tenderized.”

Until now, the USDA hadn’t required producers to label mechanically tenderized meat so consumers know what they’re buying. The new rules, to be announced Thursday, would require that mechanically tenderized products be labeled. The labels would include cooking instructions.

Hagen said mechanically tenderized meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees, then allowed to sit for at least three life.hockeyminutes after it is taken off the heat to insure any potential pathogens are killed.

Canada has rules in the works to require labeling of mechanically tenderized meat. Last October, an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 linked to meat processor XL Foods sickened 18 people and led to the country’s largest beef recall, almost 2.5 million pounds of meat. Some of it was mechanically tenderized.

Some food-safety specialists aren’t sure labeling would make much difference.

“We can’t get people to use thermometers on steaks. Why would they do it for needle-tenderized meat?” said Doug Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.

Cooking blade-tenderized meat to 145 degrees, the temperature required to kill E. coli, would “turn it into a hockey puck,” Powell said. “Why would someone pay the premium for steak or roast and then turn it into a hockey puck?”

More E. coli testing, labels for tenderized beef, but questions remain in Canadian food safety plans

Canada is strengthening its E. coli testing in summer months and will mandate labeling of mechanically or needle tenderized beef, but some omissions are notable.

• The changes only apply to meat produced at federal plants inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. How do consumers know which is which?

• The labeling requirements only apply to cuts that are tenderized at a CFIA-regulated slaughterhouse. What about cuts that are treated further down the supply system? Health Canada says it’s working on it.

• Most notable, the expanded testing for E. coli only applies to the O157:H7/NM serotype (details of the changes are at There is no mention of testing for other shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STECs) such as the big six (O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145) which were declared adulterants by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I’m fairly sure that those slaughterhouses that want to continue exporting to the U.S. will have to meet U.S. testing requirements. As a consumer I’d like to know which meat has been produced under such a system of testing.

The changes follow an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 last fall that sickened 18 people. Contaminated product was produced at XL Foods of Alberta and led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history. Several of those sickened were tenderizingPage-282x300thought to have consumed needle-tenderized product (with this technique, outside becomes inside, like hamburger, so should be cooked to 165F for safety reasons; I don’t know anyone that spends on the expense of a roast and then cooks to 165F).

Ritz said, “Canada has a world-class food safety system and our Government is committed to taking real steps to make it even stronger.”


Ritz said of labeling of mechanical tenderization beef, “It’s common sense, but it needs to be out there.”


Can we guarantee there’ll never be anymore (outbreaks)? No. Anybody that tells you you can is lying to you. It wouldn’t matter how much money, how many people you have on the lines, there’s too many moving parts to Chicago_meat_inspection_swift_co_1906-268x300guarantee an absolute. But at the end of the day, we want to take every precaution we can.”


A table of non- E. coli O157 STEC outbreaks is available at

E. coli is a risk from a variety of sources

Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science & Society, writes in the Montreal Gazette that you have probably never heard of André Jaccard, but if you eat meat, you have likely benefitted from his invention, although some would argue that the term “benefitted” has to be qualified. What cannot be argued is that back in the 1970s, Jaccard revolutionized an industry by patenting his meat-tenderizing machine!

Tough meat is a tough sell. And what makes for tough meat? An abundance of collagen, the robust protein that makes up what is tenderizingPagegenerally referred to as “connective tissue.” To make meat more tender, collagen has to be disrupted either chemically or physically. Moist cooking for a long time will do this, as will aging, marinating in an acid solution or treatment with a plant enzyme such as papain, extracted from papaya. But collagen can also be degraded by grinding, pounding, or “jaccarding.”

Jaccard’s invention was a machine that tenderizes meat by piercing it with a series of needles and razor-sharp blades that surgically shred the connective tissue and thereby, at least according to the manufacturer’s claim, make any cut of meat “butter tender.” “Jaccarding” also allows more complete penetration of marinades and reduces shrinkage and cooking times. It is easy to see why such mechanically tenderized meat appeals to suppliers, retailers, caterers and restaurants. After all, it means being able to satisfy palates with cheaper cuts. But it may also mean exposing diners to some nasty microbes, such as the notorious E. coli O157: H7.

Roughly half of all cattle shed E. coli O157: H7 in their feces, and then end up contaminating their hides as they romp through the muck in feedlots. When their hides are stripped off after slaughter, the bacteria can be transferred to the underlying meat. Similar transfer can occur through removal of bacteria-tainted entrails. Should the contaminated meat then be ground, the bacteria can become distributed throughout. But not everyone who became sick from meat that originated in the XL plant ate hamburgers; some apparently became ill after eating roasts or steaks. This caused suspicion to be cast on jaccarded meat, given that the process can drive bacteria from surface deep into the tissues, where they may survive, especially if the meat is consumed rare.

Meat that has been tenderized in this fashion is not easy to identify, since the holes made by piercing seal up and vanish. If jaccarded cuts were labelled, as is now being considered, people who buy meat would at least be alerted to making sure that an internal temperature of 70 degrees is reached. Of course, it would be more difficult to know with absolute certainty with meat consumed in restaurants, hotels or catered events.

Needle tenderized: the danger in 20 per cent of Canada’s meat you aren’t aware of

Something that slipped under my psychedelic radar was a story by CTV in Montreal about the risks of needle tenderized beef.

Most people know to cook ground beef well, but there are other cuts of beef that can also make you sick.

“My pan is nice and warm, and you see the heat is starting to penetrate the steak,” Chef Daniel Trottier says as he grills up some thick steaks. “My tenderizingPagepleasure for this steak is rare, rare to mid-rare.”

Trottier is very careful not to let too much heat get in the meat. There’s nothing rare about people who like it the same way.

But beef lovers beware: Not all cuts should be cooked this way and it may surprise you why. Over 20 per cent of Canadian beef has been mechanically tenderized. It’s a process that uses blades or needles to make some cuts of meat easier to chew. However, most don’t even know that they’re eating it.

Christina Friesen teaches butchery at the Pearson School of Culinary Arts. She sometimes uses a mechanical tenderizer. It’s usually done on lesser quality cuts of beef.

“It’s all about profitability. If we didn’t have the pickers to tenderize this, it would go to ground. That’s a lot of meat going into ground. It’s to make profit,” said Friesen.

Dr. Joe Schwarcz has a more direct way of putting it: “You can basically make lower quality meat behave as if it were higher quality meat.”

It may be tender and cheap, but it could pose a risk to your health.

Microbiologist Rick Holley says if there iE. coli on the surface of the meat, tenderizing could push it into the centre.

“What that translates to is that the overall risk associated with foodborne illness from intact mechanically tenderized meat products is about two-fold higher,” said Holley, who teaches at the University of Manitoba.

Last September, 18 people got sick after eating beef contaminated with e-coli that came from Alberta’s Xl Foods—five of them after eating mechanically tenderized beef.

“There is an additional risk associated with mechanical tenderization that allows the bacteria to get into the middle of the stuff,” said Holley.

“It’s also possible for the needles to become contaminated as you go from steak to steak to steak and you pick up bacteria from one steak and transfer it to another one,” Schwarcz continued.

Public health authorities aren’t sure if the tenderizing process was directly responsible for the five cases in Alberta. They’re still investigating.

Not warning consumers

In its investigation, CTV Montreal found only one major retailer, Costco, that’s gone the distance and included instructions on how to safely cook this meat.

Metro’s tenderized French roast has big bold print that says “all cooked – all good,” but there’s no advice on what that means. Same thing at Provigo, it just says “tenderized.”

Quebec’s major grocery chains declined our request for an interview, but say they’re abiding by Health Canada’s recommendation. Still, without clear guidelines, many beef eaters seem to be letting their taste buds make the decisions.

Canadians ‘need to know’ about mechanically tenderized meat

As XL Foods prepares to open next week, it’s still not clear if XL used meat tenderization in its processing, yet Alberta Health Services has previously suggested that tenderization of steaks at Costco stores in Alberta may have factored in the E. coli illnesses.

Shouldn’t it be easy to ask?

Mechanical meat tenderizers use needles and blades to penetrate steak and roasts. Health Canada says the process of mechanically tenderizing meat is a “very common practice” that is used by suppliers, retailers and restaurants “to improve the tenderness and flavour of cooked beef.”

The process can also drive E. coli on the surface of the meat into the centre, making it harder to kill during cooking, CBC’s Marketplace found during a recent test.

Marketplace worked with Rick Holley, a food scientist and microbiologist at the University of Manitoba, to see how the mechanical tenderization process works and what potential risks might exist.

Holley said up to two per cent of meat cuts, steaks in particular, can carry the organism on the surface.

In a test, Holley spread E. coli O157:H7 that he grew in a lab on a piece of beef. The meat was then run through the machines to see what happened to the bacteria on the surface.

In that instance, Holley found that 10 per cent of the bacteria from the surface was forced into the centre of the meat.

An earlier test using a gel visible under ultraviolet light also found that the material on the surface of the meat doesn’t only contaminate the meat – it can also spread to the needles or blades on a tenderizing machine. Holley said it can be “almost impossible” to properly clean the machines, which can then spread E. coli to other pieces of meat that are tenderized.

It’s not clear exactly how much meat processed in Canada goes through mechanical tenderization, but the Public Health Agency of Canada says in a study it could be between 20 to 50 per cent.

It’s difficult to tell which meat products have been tenderized, because after the meat has been treated the tiny holes seal up and disappear.

Holley said that the recent E. coli outbreak is just another symptom of a continuing problem. “Clearly, what we are seeing represents a failure, again, in the system,” he said. “And if things don’t change, we can expect to see this in the future.”

Canada’s agriculture minister, Gerry Ritz, said Friday federal officials are looking at issues surrounding mechanically tenderized meat, stating, such a label would warn people “that if you’re buying this tenderized product at a lesser price, because it’s a lesser cut of meat that’s been tenderized, that it should be labelled to warn you to cook it beyond the temperature that’s required.”

E. coli recall expands, CFIA seizes all product from XL Foods; needle tenderized steak to blame, again?

A recall of E. coli O157:H7 contaminated meat from Alberta has been expanded for the eighth time, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has seized all product from XL Packers, while the province has ordered Costco to stop needle tenderizing steaks.

The explosive developments come three weeks after U.S. inspectors initially found E. coli O157:H7 in XL meat crossing the border, and fundamentally undermine the role of CFIA inspectors and Agriculture Minister, Gerry Ritz, who is responsible for CFIA.

CFIA issued a statement last night, stating that to date, the company has not adequately implemented agreed upon corrective actions and has not presented acceptable plans to address longer-term issues.

Therefore, effective immediately, the CFIA has temporarily suspended the licence to operate Establishment 38 – XL Foods, Inc. All products currently at this plant are under CFIA detention and control. These products will only be released after being tested for E. coli O157:H7. The company has also expanded its voluntary recall of raw meat produced on August 24, 27, 28, 29 and September 5.

XL Foods Inc. will not resume operations until they have demonstrated that they have fully implemented CFIA’s required corrective actions.

Meanwhile, four of the eight known cases of E. coli O157:H7 matching the outbreak strain have been linked to New York strip steaks sold from an Edmonton Costco.

And more meanwhile, an Edmonton butcher told iNews880 all their meat is local, coming from farms around the city, and there is no risk of coming into his shop and finding the same beef being recalled everywhere else.

(I don’t know why the text is bold in places; we have really limited resources and our resource is on holiday.)