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American Meat Institute Defies Common Sense on Mechanically Tenderized Meat

Despite the recent recall of 248,000 pounds of mechanically tenderized beef because of possible E. coli contamination, the American Meat Institute is standing by its absurd position that mechanically tenderized meat is just as safe as other meat and therefore does not need to be labeled.

There's a reason most foodborne illness outbreaks in meat have involved ground beef -- because the product is ground, E. coli can get mixed up and spread throughout, meaning that unless the meat is cooked thoroughly, there's a chance some of the E. coli will survive.

With a regular, intact steak, on the other hand, even if it's covered with E. coli bacteria, that E. coli is only going to be on the surface, and will quickly be killed even if the steak is served rare, so long as the outside is cooked sufficiently.

Unless, of course, some machine has poked into that steak with tiny needles, potentially pushing bacteria inside of the meat -- as is done with mechanical beef tenderization. Which is why the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says "Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160°F/70˚C" (emphasis added).

The AMI cites data stating that mechanically tenderized meat is not significantly riskier, but critics say the study relied on a small sample size. Regardless, basic common sense says that if it takes more work to kill E. coli in meat that's been mechanically tenderized, such meat should be labeled.

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