Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mechanical tenderization of meat-What difference does it make?

Food technology always provides new insights into food quality and accordingly strives to develop appropriate processes and techniques to achieve the goals. Take the example of meat carcass from animals like cattle and pigs which are naturally tough to eat straight away unless they are softened for easy consumption and achieve the characteristic eating quality. Age old techniques like marinating, use of vinegar, wines, butter milk, yogurt, enzymes like papain, bromelain and actinidin to tenderize meat are giving way to more sophisticated techniques like mechanical tenderization using large machines with steel needles and blades. Though the new innovation does avoid too much handling by the workers in meat processing units, different type of problem seems to be emerging causing more contamination cases involving the much dreaded and virulent E.coli 0157H7. This has led to wide spread demand from the consumers to differentiate between traditional tenderization and mechanical tenderization on the display label that would help them to cook the latter more severely to kill the contaminant that might have been pushed deep into the product because of the use of needles and blades. Here is a take on this vexed issue that has led to a tricky situation faced by the industry and the safety authorities in some countries.   

"According to a final rule by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), mechanically tenderized beef products will not require special safety labels for at least another three years. The tenderization process softens the meat with tools and devices that are known to cultivate pathogens that can lead to food borne illness. Initially proposed in mid-2013, the meat labeling rule would require that food packaging displays specific cooking instructions for meat products. FSIS's concern has been that consumers are not cooking meat long enough to prevent foodborne illness.  The labeling rule was not finalized as expected by December 31, 2014, thus it cannot take effect before 2018 according to FSIS requirements. Had the rule been cleared in a timely manner, the meat labeling requirements could have been enforced as soon as next year. The two-year incremental delay is meant to make changes easier for food manufacturers to comply. Proponents of meat labeling believe that consumers will be put at risk for another two years without more stringent instructions to follow when cooking meat. However, the meat industry has taken a stance against this labeling proposal, arguing that measures put in place by meat processors are sufficient in making sure that meat distributed to consumers is already safe."

Though the number of serious cases arising out of meat contamination due to mechanical tenderization process is relatively far and few, consumers are fearful while selecting their meat requirements and therefore their demand for label declaration appears to be reasonable. Such a declaration will enable them to adequately cook the meat till the center temperature reaches 67-71C which is supposed to kill the contaminating pathogens completely. While this demand has been accepted in principle, what is causing consternation is the unnecessary prevarication on the part of the safety authorities in enforcing the labeling rule during the last three years which gives the consumers an impression that meat industry is getting more favorable treatment at the hands of the governments ignoring the well being of the citizens. It is time such an impression is nipped in the bud by immediately enforcing the new labeling rules and restore the trust between the industry and the consumer.


No comments: