The Government of Canada recently published amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations, which will create new labelling requirements for mechanically tenderized beef.

Mechanically tenderized beef (MTB), a defined term under the new regulations, is uncooked, solid cut beef that is prepared by piercing the meat to tenderize it or by injecting the meat (e.g. with a marinade).  Under the amendments, all MTB sold in Canada, included imported products, will have to be labelled as such on the principal display panel.  Cooking instructions advising the consumer to “Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 63°C (145°F),” and in the case of steak, the additional message, “Turn steak over at least twice during cooking,” must also be included.  The new regulations come into effect on August 21, 2014.

The new labelling requirements were developed in response to a series of beef recalls in 2012 involving E. colicontamination.  Following investigation, Health Canada concluded that MTB presented a fivefold increase in risk of contamination compared to intact cuts of beef.  If the surface of the meat is contaminated, the tenderizing process can transfer the contamination from the surface of the meat to the centre, where the bacteria is less likely to be killed during cooking.  MTB cannot easily be identified by visual inspection.

Since 2013, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has required federally registered processors (those subject to the Meat Inspection Regulations, 1990) to label MTB as mechanically tenderized and to carry cooking instructions.   Consequently, these processors are likely to be minimally affected.

The changes are likely to have the most impact on non-federally registered processors (those carrying on business solely within provincial borders) as well as retailers, which may tenderize and package the beef themselves.  In the United States, 5% of mechanically tenderized or enhanced beef products were packaged at the retail level, but it is unknown whether this statistic is also representative of practices in Canada.

Canada has identified a reduction in the number of recalls for MTB as a likely benefit of the amendments.  This is one of the clearest acknowledgements to date by Canadian officials of the role that proper consumer food preparation practices have in reducing the inherent risks associated with meat products.  Consumer education and awareness efforts are also planned as part of Health Canada’s intended implementation strategy for the new requirements.

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