Mechanically tenderized beef products could carry labels in the future so consumers know there is a danger of pathogens being transferred from the outside of the cut to the interior if not cooked properly.
Research has shown that this process may transfer pathogens present on the outside of the cut to the interior, according to the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Because of the possible presence of pathogens in the interior of the product, mechanically tenderized beef products may pose a greater threat to public health than intact beef products, if they are not cooked properly, they added.
The proposed rule would require that mechanically tenderized product is labelled so that consumers know they are purchasing product that has been through the process.
It would also require the labels of mechanically tenderized product to display validated cooking instructions, so that consumers have the information they need to cook it in a way that destroys illness-causing pathogens.
FSIS said it used data from its research, the Agricultural Research Service, and the CDC to determine the public health risk associated with undercooking mechanically tenderized products, and the benefits of the proposed rule.
To increase tenderness, some cuts of beef go through a process known as mechanical tenderization, during which they are pierced by needles or sharp blades in order to break up muscle fibres.
Sarah Klein, CSPI senior food safety attorney, said theUSDA's requirement that the meat industry label cuts of meat that have been needle- or blade-tenderized is a common sense remedy that can protect consumers.
“This little-known but widespread industry practice can push surface pathogens to the interior of the meat, making those bacteria much harder to kill unless a consumer cooks the meat to well done.
“Consumers and restaurants should exercise more care when cooking these products and use a meat thermometer to ensure an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees, plus a three-minute rest period, or even 160 degrees.”
She added that USDA should accelerate the requirement and make labels mandatory by January 2014.
“In the meantime, consumers should ask at the meat counter if the products they are buying have been mechanically tenderized and select intact cuts if they prefer meat rare or medium rare.”
The proposal will be published soon in the Federal Register and the comment period will end 60 days after that date.
Under Secretary Elisabeth Hagen said: "This proposed rule would enhance food safety by providing clear labeling of mechanically-tenderized beef products and outlining new cooking instructions so that consumers and restaurants can safely prepare these products."