In response to the USDA's June proposal to label mechanically tenderized beef, the American Meat Institute last week submitted comments advising against the plan, noting that additional labeling for MT products could confuse customers.
In its proposal, USDA suggested that products produced using mechanical tenderization should include labeling that identifies it as such and includes additional cooking information.
Mechanical tenderization, which is used to increase tenderness through the use of sharp needles or blades that break up muscle fibers, has come under scrutiny in the last several years because some foodborne illness outbreaks have been linked back to products using the process.
USDA says MT allows pathogens to transfer from the exterior of the surface into the interior, thus requiring different handling and cooking methods.
But AMI disagrees. The group said in its comments to the proposal that the existing labeling for MT products already provides "open and transparent information based on recognizable common and usual product names."
The group also highlighted the safety record of MT products, noting that Food Safety and Inspection Service Risk Assessments prepared in 2002 and updated in 2010 suggest little difference in the safety of MT products compared to intact beef.
The comments also assert that since the last foodborne illness outbreak attributed to MT beef in 2009, the industry has taken several steps to improve product safety.
"It is telling that there has not been a single foodborne illness outbreak in the U.S. attributable to MT beef cuts in almost four years," the comments say.
Additionally, AMI argues that changing the product name to include the term "mechanically tenderized" will confuse customers and does not offer a safety benefit. The group suggests instead that handling instructions and other information displayed prominently on the label provides a more effective consumer benefit.
The comments also recommend that, rather than requiring validated cooking instructions that might not fit how consumers like to cook a product, FSIS should review the effectiveness of the safe handling instructions and include specific cuts with appropriate cooking temperatures and resting times.