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Mechanical Tenderization Makes Rare Steak Risky

12/31/2009 4:53:26 PM

Tags: food safety, e.coli, USDA, industrial agriculture, food and agriculture policy

Rare Steak

True or False: It’s safe to eat your steak rare, because unlike ground beef, dangerous bacteria don’t infiltrate intact cuts of meat.

If you answered true, you’re surely not alone. That’s what we’ve been told all along, right? While this theory often is correct, it doesn’t apply to steaks that have been mechanically tenderized. The process, whereby small needles or blades are repeatedly inserted into a steak, transfers deadly bacteria from the surface to the interior. This means the center of a processed steak must be cooked to a minimum of 160 degrees Fahrenheit in order to be considered safe to eat.

How do you avoid mechanically tenderized steaks? You can’t, at this point, if you're buying your steaks at the supermarket. There are no laws requiring that processed steaks be labeled as such. According to Food Safety News, The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service states that over 50 million pounds of mechanically tenderized meat products are sold each month. And if you want further reason to be cautious, keep in mind that on December 24, the USDA announced a voluntary recall of almost 250,000 of these mechanically tenderized steaks when a number of E.coli-related illnesses began to surface in five states (Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Washington and South Dakota).

You can be sure you're getting an intact steak if you buy from a local producer that doesn't use this process. To locate one near you, check out Eat Wild's Product Directory, or the database at Local Harvest.


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5/13/2010 1:38:47 PM
It is disturbing to know that what we have been led to believe for so long is plain wrong. I studied food microbiology and a comparison of hamburger versus steak was one of the first labs that I did, and we found that steak (not mechanically separated) had higher counts of bacteria and fungi than the hamburger did, but they were thankfully not harmful species (there is no getting away from them, surprised I can eat anything anymore...). I agree with the article, know your farmer, and their practices, and keep your utensils clean. Handwashing is the most important way to stay free of food borne illnesses!

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