Why Am I Hearing About “Mechanically Tenderized” Beef?

This is a typical blade (or needle) tenderizer, which breaks down muscle fibers to make even more tender beef.

This is a typical blade (or needle) tenderizer, which breaks down muscle fibers to make even more tender beef.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced new labeling requirements for raw or partially cooked beef products that have been “mechanically tenderized.” Restaurants, retailers, food service facilities, beef purveyors and their patrons will now have even more information about the beef products they are buying, as well as useful cooking instructions so they know how to safely prepare them. This rule, beginning May 17, now requires that raw beef product that has been mechanically tenderized include the descriptive designation “mechanically tenderized,” “blade tenderized” or “needle tenderized” on the package and include cooking instructions.

What is Mechanically Tenderized Meat?

Mechanically tenderized meat simply means that the meat has been pierced with needles, or small blades, in order to break up the muscle tissue for a more tender beef-eating experience. You may remember your grandmother doing something similar with a small meat mallet in her kitchen. Check out the video that explains more about mechanically tenderized meat.

Why is Meat Mechanically Tenderized?

Tenderness is one of the reasons people love beef. Some cuts, such as the lean sirloin cut, are a little less tender than other cuts, such as the very tender ribeye. This tenderness is dependent on a variety of factors – where the cut comes from on the carcass, the age or genetics of the animal and degree of marbling. Meat has been tenderized by hand in kitchens for generations. Today’s beef community uses a similar technique on a broader scale – mechanical tenderization – to offer more consistently tender beef options to more consumers. According to USDA data, about 11 percent or 2.6 billion pounds of beef products sold in the United States are mechanically tenderized. See the video below that discusses the different tenderness profiles of common beef cuts or check out the Interactive Butcher Counter to see which cuts are the most or least naturally tender.

What does this new rule mean for me?

This new rule shouldn’t change the way that you buy beef – you may just see more information on the label than you have in the past. Tenderized beef products are often sold at restaurants or foodservice establishments, but they can also be sold at supermarkets and grocery stores. Mechanically tenderized beef should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees followed by a three-minute rest time, so if you’re cooking it at home, be sure to follow those directions. If you’re ordering beef in a restaurant, the restaurant should always cook beef to the optimal food safety temperature.

For more information on this new rule, you can read USDA’s blog post on the topic. Also, check out the USDA infographic below.



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