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Canada requires mechanically tenderized beef labeling

Prepackaged MTB roast with labelling requirements included on same label as other mandatory information
Prepackaged MTB roast with labelling requirements included on same label as other mandatory information

All mechanically tenderized beef (MTB) products sold in Canada must now be clearly labelled as such and include instructions for safe cooking, according to Health Canada.

The labels will emphasize the importance of cooking MTB to a minimum internal temperature of 63°C (145°F) and turning over steaks at least twice during cooking to kill bacteria.

Federally registered plants that produce MTB cuts, such as steaks or roasts, have been required to label products as tenderized and with cooking instructions since July 2013.

This regulatory change applies to sectors selling uncooked MTB to other industry members or consumers. This includes grocery retailers, butcher shops, meat processors, and importers of MTB.

CFIA verification

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will be verifying that labels meet the requirements.

Mechanical tenderization of meat is used by the food industry to improve the tenderness and flavour of beef by using needles or blades to break down muscle fibres.

Mechanically tenderizing beef can spread surface contamination to the inside of the meat, meaning it must be cooked to a higher temperature so that harmful organisms are destroyed.

Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health, said without clear labels, it is difficult for consumers to know which beef products have been mechanically tenderized.

“Today's announcement, along with new industry labelling guidelines we have released,   will help Canadians know when they are buying these products and how to cook them.

“This regulatory change is another step in our government's commitment to make certain that consumers have the food safety information they need."

Background to action

In 2012, 18 cases of foodborne illness caused by E.coli O157 were reported as part of a Canadian outbreak associated with contaminated beef.

During the investigation following the outbreak, five cases were considered to be likely associated with beef that had been mechanically tenderized at the retail level.

In May 2013, Health Canada completed a health risk assessment focused on E. coli O157 in MTB.

The results showed a five-fold increase in risk from MTB products when compared to cuts of beef.

It also noted that without labels, it is difficult for Canadians to identify which beef products have been mechanically tenderized.

The US is also looking at the issue with a comment period on a proposed rule closing late last year but the final rule has yet to be published.

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