News reports today have raised some questions about mechanically tenderized meat (MTM) products. A series of questions and answers are included below to clarify the facts surrounding MTM and its safety.
Additional resources, including a discussion of food safety interventions used in producing these products, are available on Meat MythCrushers and on the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s www.FactsAboutBeef.com.
What is mechanically tenderized meat?
Meat cuts come from various parts of an animal. Some are naturally more tender and some are less tender. Mechanically tenderized meat (MTM) is produced by inserting blades into some cuts to break up fibers that may make that cut less tender. It’s similar to the common in-home practice of using of a fork or mallet to tenderize. In some cases, a solution is also added to add flavor or to further tenderize.
Why is meat mechanically tenderized?
Tender meat is highly prized by consumers. Meat is mechanically tenderized to provide a satisfying and enjoyable eating experience to consumers. Mechanical tenderization can be especially beneficial on cuts that are not naturally tender, like the shoulder, for example. Muscles that are used the most can be less tender. Muscles that perform less work, like the tenderloin, are naturally more tender and don’t require tenderizing.
Is MTM safe?
A risk assessment by USDA in 2008 concluded that mechanically tenderized meat was comparable in safety to non-tenderized products. Data from USDA show that these products, overall, have an excellent food safety record. USDA continues to study these products and evaluate their safety. A new risk assessment is due in late 2012 or early 2013 that will provide further information about their safety record. Keep in mind that mechanically tenderized meat products are produced under federal inspection oversight and must be in compliance with federal food safety rules in order to be sold.
Is mechanically tenderized meat labeled?
USDA regulates all the labels on meat products. Any time a solution or ingredient is added to a meat product, it must be declared on the front of the package and in the ingredient statement. If a solution is added as part of the tenderization process, the product will declare it. If no solution is added, and meat is simply tenderized, it is not currently labeled.
How should these products be cooked?
Cooking destroys bacteria. USDA recommends cooking mechanically tenderized meat to a minimum temperature of 145 degrees F. (which is medium rare) with a three-minute rest period before serving. During the three minute rest, the product continues to cook. Any bacteria that may remain are destroyed by following this resting practice. University research affirms that this practice does ensure safety.
Do restaurants follow these procedures?
The U.S. restaurant industry is extremely aware of the importance of cooking all meat products to the proper temperature to ensure that they are safe when served. Mechanically tenderized products are no exception.