Information for Canadians on cooking mechanically tenderized beef

Starting date:
October 20, 2012
Posting date:
October 20, 2012
Type of communication:
Microbiological - E. coli O157:H7, Other
Source of recall:
Health Canada
Identification number:

Health Canada has started a review of the science around the safe handling and cooking of beef products that are mechanically tenderized, to identify what advice should be communicated to consumers and the food industry.

Some meat handlers and even some Canadians at home tenderize cuts of beef, including steaks and roasts, using machines or tools made for this process. Mechanically tenderizing meat is a very common practice and has been used by suppliers, restaurants and retailers for many years to improve the tenderness and flavour of cooked beef. 

While this review is ongoing, and to make sure that any bacteria that may be present in the meat are killed, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are encouraging Canadians to cook mechanically tenderized steak and beef cuts to an internal temperature of at least 71 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit). Reaching 71 degrees Celsius (160 Fahrenheit) would cook a steak or roast to approximately “medium” doneness, although a digital food thermometer should be used to be sure that the safe internal temperature is reached.

In addition to this interim advice, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency continue to recommend that Canadians take steps to protect against the risks of food-borne illness, including E. coli.  These steps include:

  • Wash your hands before and after cooking;
  • Keep knives, counters and cutting board clean;
  • Keep raw meats separate from other foods when you store them; and
  • Refrigerate or freeze left-overs promptly.

Canadians who are at greater risk of complications from foodborne illness, and their caregivers, should be particularly cautious about making sure any mechanically tenderized beef products are thoroughly cooked and handled safely. These groups include seniors, pregnant women, young children and those with weakened immune systems.

In general, the internal temperature of a steak or other solid cut of meat is not a significant health concern given that any harmful bacteria that may be present would normally only be on the surface of the meat and would be eliminated even if cooked “rare”. However, when steaks and beef cuts are mechanically tenderized, there is a potential for bacteria to spread from the surface into the centre of the meat. As a result, there may be an increased chance that bacteria like E. coli O157:H7 are not fully eliminated when these beef products are cooked “rare”.

Health Canada’s scientific review will look at the likelihood that the tenderizing process can spread bacteria, along with additional steps and best practices that can be applied by industry to prevent the spread of bacteria before a product reaches Canadian consumers. The review will also evaluate the effectiveness of measures a consumer can take, including whether an internal temperature lower than 71 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit) would be as effective at reducing the risk from these products.

Health Canada is also actively working with the retail and food industry to support its efforts to identify mechanically tenderized beef for consumers through labels, signage or other means. The industry expects to start putting these measures in place over the next two to three weeks. In the meantime, should consumers be uncertain if a product has been mechanically tenderized, they are encouraged to ask the food seller or food service provider.

Once the scientific review has been completed, Health Canada will update Canadians on any changes to these recommendations.

For more information on safe food handling, please visit the  Government of Canada’s food safety portal.

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