Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mechanical tenderization of meat-Safety apprehensions not addressed on priority

Meat products happened to be one of the most frequently contaminated foods in the US market and in spite of stiff guidelines and regulatory controls food poisoning incidences are becoming a constant source of concern to the safety authorities in that country. The industry is also mired in controversy on account of the frequent use of popular antibiotics in the feeds, contented to be for increasing the body weight of the animals during the growth stage. Obviously the antibiotics residues are bound to be in the meat derived from such animals and consequently incidence of infection can be expected to be less frequent. Still contaminated meat products make news in the US more and more frequently and there is considerable apprehension among the consumers regarding consequences of consuming infected meat products. Added to this worry is the use of newer technologies like mechanized tenderization which theoretically can increase the potential for contamination if proper precautions are not taken. Repeated attempts by consumer activists to force the meat industry to distinguish mechanically tenderized from conventionally processed products are being resisted by the processors and the safety agency seems to be willingly playing into the hands of the meat industry lobby by delaying the mandatory labeling requirement under one pretext or the other. Here is a take on this issue.

"For more than a decade, consumer groups and the U.S. federal government have been discussing the food safety concerns surrounding mechanically tenderized beef — steaks or other whole cuts that have been mechanically punctured with needles or knives to make them more tender for consumers. In the U.S., roughly one-quarter of whole beef cuts are mechanically tenderized. Mechanical tenderization of beef poses health risks because it transfers potential pathogens from the surface of the meat down into the center If the cuts are cooked rare or not thoroughly enough, the pathogens in the center may go on to sicken the consumer. A number of foodborne illness outbreaks have been connected to mechanically tenderized beef in recent years, including the 2012 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in Canada from XL Foods, which resulted in the largest beef recall in Canadian history. According to USA Today, at least five outbreaks in the U.S. have recently been attributed to mechanically tenderized beef, resulting in 174 confirmed illnesses and four deaths. The problem with tenderized beef is that without a label, it's impossible to tell whether or not a cut of meat has been tenderized, said Patricia Buck, executive director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention (CFI). Anyone who might want to take extra precautions to avoid E. coli or other pathogens in their steak has no way to identify the additional risk without a label. That's especially concerning for children, the elderly, or any other consumers with weaker immune systems, Buck said. In a federal register notice from June 2013, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) estimated that E. coli illnesses from mechanically tenderized beef ranged between 587 and 4,657 each year. Labeling that beef could prevent an estimated 133 to 1,497 of those illnesses, the agency said, which would translate into roughly $1.5 million in economic benefits from avoided illnesses each year. "When we're trying to reduce the prevalence of foodborne illness, labeling mechanically tenderized beef is one quick fix that has an actual impact," Buck said.'

It is not understandable as to why the industry is so fiercely opposing such consumer friendly labeling system forgetting that the very foundation of its business is built upon confidence and trust between them. Same trend is seen in the case of GM foods also where repeated attempts by the consumer organizations to label them are being rebuffed by the industry through means which cannot be considered fair. industry may claim that their products are perfectly safe but it is the inalienable right of the consumer to know what he is buying and therefore if he wants to know if the meat is mechanically tenderized he must know about it to take a decision to buy or not. If the law says irradiated foods, considered absolutely safe, need labeling why not mechanically tenderized meat products also? Further prevarication by the safety agencies cannot be condoned at all. 


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