Photo by Tim Boyle/Newsmakers
I am, as always, indebted to Bill Marler for his ongoing commentary--often with slide shows--on recalls of foods contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and other nasty bugs. He offers ongoing comments about the Christmas eve recall of 248,000 pounds of needle-tenderized steaks.
He points out that the recall now affects people in several states and that the meat was intended for several chain restaurants. The contaminated meat, produced in Oklahoma, has sickened at least 19 people in 16 states.
Mechanically tenderized "non-intact" beef? Uh oh. The great thing about intact steak is that harmful contaminants are on the outside surface; the bacteria get killed by the high heat of searing the outside surface. You don't have to worry about the safety of intact steak because its insides are relatively sterile. But if the steak is pre-treated to tenderize it, watch out! Tenderizing can drive harmful bacteria right into the interior where they won't get killed unless the steak is thoroughly cooked.
To explain the problem, Marler posts a slide show from Dave Boxrud.
Marler provides links to documents showing that the USDA has received plenty of recent warnings about the dangers of undercooked non-intact beef. This is no surprise. In my 2003 book Safe Food (coming out in a new edition in 2010), I discuss the USDA's "testing gap" with respect to nonintact beef. In 1999, the USDA said that it wanted to extend its testing requirements for ground beef to mechanically tenderized beef that might be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.