Injury issues aside (see John Mcdonalds HUS story), the problem with tenderized beef is that it internalizes bacteria from the surface of intact cuts of beef, thereby reducing the likelihood that cooking will serve as an effective kill step. The recent (ongoing???) outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 linked to National Steak and Poultry products occurred because the cuts of beef were mechanically tenderized. In fact, somewhat frighteningly, a majority of the steaks and roasts destined for consumption at hotels, restaurants, and other institutional settings are mechanically tenderized. Clearly, unless consumers stop eating tenderized beef or a reliable pre-cooking kill step is established and actually used, the onus for the task of manufacturing safe beef products remains squarely on the manufacturers’ shoulders.
"Manufacturer" is a broad term, and I intend to confine it to no one entity in the process of manufacturing beef products. It includes slaughterhouses and retail meat producers alike (e.g. National Steak and Poultry). Because our inboxes and voicemail systems are already filling up with inquiries about the outbreak, we will have the opportunity to discover everything that National Steak and Poultry, and the entities who sold it the contaminated products, knew about the risks associated with tenderized beef. And more importantly, we will have the opportunity to discover what those entities did to minimize or eliminate the risk that consumers of their products would become infected by E. coli O157:H7.
For starters, we will be interested to know what studies these entities participated in to research both the prevelance of E. coli and other bacteria on the surface and in the interior of tenderized beef; what the results of those studies were; and how these entities used or acted upon the results of their work. If the answer is, as it very well may be, "No, we did not fund or participate in any such studies," i’m not sure that’s going to mean much in front of a jury who is going to hear that such studies have, in fact, been done.
One such study by The Center for Red Meat Safety at Colorado State University, which sought to determine the efficacy of anti-microbial treatments at various stages of the manufacturing process, found that the obvious was true: bacteria is very hard to effectively remove or kill once it has been introduced into the interior of the beef; but that surface interventions can effectively reduce the contamination load on the surface of the product. See the whole study here. The timing of the chosen treatment (in the study, researchers used both water and lactic acid) is also important, as the study quite logically found that the treatments were more effective when done prior to tenderization.
The main point of this study, or at least the point that i think we should all take from this and other similar studies, is that there is no failsafe method, in use presently, of eliminating bacteria from the surface or interior of beef products once those products become contaminated. Thus, manufacturers must attack the problem of bacterial contamination on meat products where interventions can be more effectively applied: during the slaughtering process. If we prevent meat from becoming contaminated in the first place, the need to eliminate contamination from the surface or interior of the meat will cease to exist.