FSIS must follow the advice given by the Safe Food Coalition:

• Issue a press release as soon as possible indicating that the current cooking guidelines and temperatures for intact beef products are not safe for all beef products that look intact. [Specifically, that mechanically tenderized steaks should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, just like hamburger.]

• Take immediate steps to develop regulation that will require labeling to clearly identify mechanically tenderized, non-intact beef and pork products for all processing facilities, retail purchasers and consumers.

• Initiate a FSIS program to assess the effectiveness of public health messaging, so that effective food safety messages can be delivered to all food safety stakeholders.

On Christmas Eve 2009, National Steak and Poultry and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recalled 248,000 pounds of mechanically tenderized beef products contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.  Within days the CDC confirmed 21 persons infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 from 16 states liked to the recall. The number of ill persons identified reside in each of the following states: CA (1), CO (1), FL (1), HI (1), IA (1), IN (1), KS (1), MI (1), MN (3), NV (1), OH (2), OK (1), SD (2), TN (1), UT (2), and WA (1).

Last week my firm, Marler Clark, filed a lawsuit against National Steak and Poultry in Utah on behalf of a 14-year-old boy who had been infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 in October 2009. He was sick for weeks and hospitalized for several days. Generally, it has been believed that steaks were not considered a high-risk source of E. coli O157: H7. However, when steaks are mechanically or needle-tenderized that process may transfer the bacteria from the surface to the inside of the product.

In recent years, several outbreaks and illnesses have been associated with mechanically tenderized meat products. These products, such as steaks and roasts, have been tenderized through a process that repeatedly inserts small needles or blades into the product. These needles or blades pierce the surface of the product increasing the risk that any pathogens located on the surface of the product can be transferred to the interior of the product.

In March 2003 six persons developed E. coli O157:H7 infections. The illnesses were subsequently linked to the consumption of steaks produced by Stampede Meat, Inc., of Chicago, Illinois. The steaks had been blade tenderized and injected with marinade.

In August 2004 Quantum Foods, a Bolingbrook, Ill., firm voluntarily recalled approximately 406,000 pounds of frozen beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced. The recall was linked to illnesses at Applebee’s in Colorado.

In May 2007 Davis Creek Meats and Seafood of Kalamazoo Michigan recalled nearly 130,000 pounds of beef products in 15 states because of possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination. The products were linked to E. coli O157:H7 illnesses. The items being recalled include boxes of mechanically tenderized steaks and ground beef.

Also in May 2007 the Fresno County Department of Community Health announced that the agency investigated an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among several Fresno County, California, residents. FCDCH urged consumers who had purchased tenderized, cooked tri-tip from The Grill at the Meat Market on May 18 or 19 to discard the product, as it may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

In September 2008 300-400 people attended a fund-raiser for the volunteer fire department of Forest Ranch, CA. Twenty-four of the people who ate at the BBQ fundraiser tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, including a 6-year-old girl who was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Health officials have linked the outbreak to tenderized tri-tip beef served at the event.

Several studies [as recently as 2009] have been undertaken to determine if the mechanical tenderization process transfers pathogens from the surface to the interior of beef products. A study by Luchansky et al., found that, depending on the level of surface contamination, mechanical tenderization of beef products transferred E. coli O157:H7 into the topmost 1 cm of product in 90% to 100% of samples and into the topmost 2 cm of product in 55% to 98% of samples.

For these reasons the recommendations of the Safe Food Coalition must be adopted by FSIS.