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Steak Safety re:mechanical tenderizing

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There have been several articles in the national press regarding E. coli infections obtained by eating steak in family type restaurants. Apparently mechanical tenderizers are widely used by large meat processors to tenderize steak and the multiple piercing introduces the bacteria into the center of the steak. Apparently supermarkets also get a hold of the meat.

As someone who eats steak rare because of my perceived risk benefit ratio but will eat hamburger only well done, what is the story on this?

How widespread is the practice, do the upscale steak restaurants do it? I have tried to get an answer on the Internet but have failed and can't find a thread on Chowhound.

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  1. As I understand it, mechanically tenderized steak has the same E. coli risk as ground beef :(

    I am not sure how widespread it is, as it isn't always labeled and I think a restaurant may not necessarily know. However, they should be able to find out

    1. Eat better cuts of meat and you will not have to worry about needling meat .....while some restaurant do employ the practice....most steakhouses do not. I'd worry more with buffet type places...rather than full service restaurants.

      There will always be isolated incidents....but a widespread problem, no.

      32 Replies
      1. re: fourunder

        Actually, the issue is that many places (including Costco) mechanically tenderize ALL meat, regardless of cut. However, this was not common knowledge until very recently.

        1. re: CanadaGirl

          Is there anything in print about Costco needling all their meat?

          1. re: Tom34

            Here is an article from Dec. saying that when COSTCO does mechanically tenderized, it says so on the label.
            http://www.kansascity.com/2012/12/08/...

            1. re: wyogal

              Good read!!!! I can see needling tougher cuts and believe its probably labeled "Up to a certain % solution added" which is what I believe their doing with pork & chicken, but do you really thing their doing it with premium beef cuts in the choice grade?

              1. re: Tom34

                I have no idea. My guess would be "no," but that's just a guess.

              2. re: wyogal

                Costco in Canada only started labeling mechanically tenderized meat about a month ago.

                1. re: CanadaGirl

                  Right, I saw that. I didn't assume that they had done it for a long time.

            2. re: CanadaGirl

              Do you have any links for this? Id be shocked if that is the case, but I guess anything is possible. Ive bought rib racks and tenderloins at costco before and noticed no signs of jaccarding.

              1. re: twyst

                I just googled it and saw reports where province(s?) in Canada made Costco quit doing it recently because of an outbreak.

                1. re: wyogal

                  Yeah, I saw the stuff about cut steaks being tenderized, Im more interested in whether they are tenderizing subprimals as well.

                  1. re: wyogal

                    Was this with tough cuts or all their beef?

                    1. re: Tom34

                      They recalled NY strips, so unless they were just recalled for coming from the same plant as something contaminated, I think it is all cut steaks

                      1. re: twyst

                        Even Choice?

                        1. re: Tom34

                          Kind of my question too. Ive bought Prime grade subprimals there, and would be kind of upset if they were jaccarded

                          1. re: twyst

                            Well, look at the meat. It's quite easy to see if the cut has been jacarded. I bought a (wrapped in butchers' paper) flank steak at my farmers' market last summer and was horrified when I went to cook it and discovered the nasty "bites." I always cook flank steak medium-rare, but would not serve this steak to my family. Returned it to the vendor the next week, and he did not have a clue as to my concerns.

                            1. re: pikawicca

                              Well, I thought it would be easily visible as well, but there are claims in this thread that its not noticeable and all costco beef is mechanically tenderized. Its very easy to spot mechanically tenderized beef at the grocery store, but I thought maybe costco was doing something different.

                              1. re: twyst

                                I don't shop there but I have wondered about the Walmart Beef.
                                I have a Jaccard and have used it on tough cuts and it is "very" noticeable ......but it it not a commercial needling machine. Still though, If your buying sub primals like me, your trimming the fat cap and then cutting the steaks. Hard to believe we wouldn't see marks of some kind.

                            2. re: twyst

                              I buy a lot of choice 0x1 strips and have never seen the Jaccarded marks. I know what they look like because I have had one for years for lessor cuts.

                  2. re: CanadaGirl

                    CanadaGirl about 19 hours ago

                    Actually, the issue is that many places (including Costco) mechanically tenderize ALL meat, regardless of cut.
                    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                    While Costco may implement the practice, i would challenge you to cite *many others* that do so as well. I can see Costco doing so because they make decisions that will affect their bottom line and perception. Until this post, many raved about Costco meats in general....however, they do factor in this extra step, specification and labor costs whis is reflected in their pricing structure

                    A head of Grass fed cattle goes for approximately $600USD sold to market....as I have a friend who owns shares in a local farm/ranch, and this is what he has explained to me. It would be expensive for farmers or slaughtering houses to ship out meat cuts to be needled before packaging. As for the *Top Steakhouses*. many use hanging beef or beef with the bone. I doubt their beef is needled if they dry-age.....but I have heard that top Prime Rib Houses do needle whole boneless eyes/loins on location.

                    With regards to why there is not any evidence of needle hole, I surmise it has to do with a few things.....

                    * The needling may be done from the top down, not from the side.

                    * Over time, the holes close by themselves

                    * When Cryovac packaged and vacuum sealed, I suspect the hole sized are reduced and close as a result of the process.

                    Videos:

                    http://www.jaccard.com/Model-H-Commer...

                    http://www.jaccard.com/Commercial-Mea...

                    1. re: fourunder

                      I can not point you to an article, but the machine for blade tenderizing is visible at most grocery stores in my area.

                      Also, as with many food items, standard practices can differ between Canada and the US.

                      1. re: CanadaGirl

                        Here's a site you may have interest in.....I find it one of the better ones available at present time that's both informative and easy to navigate.

                        http://www.cbamarketing.info/

                    2. re: CanadaGirl

                      Costco used to be my go to for steaks, but now all of them, including ribeyes and strips have warning labels that they must be cooked to well done because they've used mechanical tenderizing. Why tenderize a steak that is already tender like the ribeye, especially since doing so poses a health risk to customers.

                      I'm in Alberta and they're stilill doing this even after the practice infected people with e coli here.

                    3. re: fourunder

                      YES......for the low prices they charge, AYCE buffet places likely buy no-roll and needle it. About 6 months ago I was in the kitchen of one & saw hundreds of lbs of raw chicken piled on a wet filthy concrete floor waiting to be de-boned.

                      Any recommendations for using a Jaccard at home on a tough cut? Possibly thorough rinsing followed by a quick high temp oven sterilization before needling & marinating?

                      1. re: Tom34

                        Never tried it, but you should be able to pan-sear, cool, pierce, then marinade.

                        1. re: pikawicca

                          I was thinking about 5 minutes on a rack with full air circulation at 450 - 500 degrees. That should kill anything on the surface but not do much cooking.

                        2. re: Tom34

                          if the jaccard is clean and the steaks fresh, the time span between jaccarding and cooking/service isn't long enough to allow significant contamination. The issue comes when there's time for the bacteria introduced by a commercial jaccard to multiply.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            My spoiled family eat mostly strips & ribs these days but when feeding a large party with different finished temp preferences, several London Broils (top sirloins) cooked to different temps certainly are convenient so I would most certainly want to keep using the Jaccard.

                            I feel sorry for my skinny daughters as they both love blood rare steak and burgers. The way things are going, they may be S.O.L. when they grow up, learn to fly and build their own nest.

                          2. re: Tom34

                            Results for a Top Sirloin Steak.....and for two beef roasts, a Cross Rib Shoulder and Chuck Roast, both punched or needled.. the results were excellent, but I cannot honestly say it was due to the piercings or simply I got lucky with the beef.

                            I plan on continuing to pierce my meat whenever possible.

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/866603

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/880991

                          3. re: fourunder

                            I disagree fourunder. Many cuts of meats are put through the tenderizer. Radio Canada did some reporting on this issue and it was surprising how many cuts of meat go through the tenderizer.

                            1. re: Ruthie789

                              do the upscale steak restaurants do it?....

                              ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                              Are you disagreeing with The Top Steakhouses do not tenderize, or that beef cuts are tenderized in general?

                              For the most part, steaks from the top Steakhouses include the bone. Mechanical tenderizing, while not impossible, would be very difficult and impractical.....but the dry or wet aging of meat would make the step unnecessary.

                              1. re: fourunder

                                Many beef cuts have been tenderized. Hopefully a top steakhouse would not resort to tenderizing. After watching a show on the news I was very surprised to learn of how many cuts are tenderized.

                                1. re: Ruthie789

                                  Understood, but my comments were in regards to restaurants as asked, not the beef/food industry in general.

                          4. Certainly upscale steak restaurants do NOT do this. I suspect that restaurants like Texas Roadhouse do. Ask.

                            1. We ran out of Pork Chops cut by a butcher friend and my wife picked up some double thick ones at Shoprite. Pulled at 140, finished temp 145. Cut into them and the plate was filled with water. Very moist, somewhat tough & NO pork flavor. Went to the trash and the label said up to 15% solution added.

                              Is this pork Pumped/Plumped by needling and do we have the same outside to inside concern? Same, even more so for chicken? My butcher buddy said the next shoe to drop will be the pumped chicken industry.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: Tom34

                                Next time, try the Sterling Silver brand.....it's superior to Excel, Good Nature or Smithfield brands.

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  I used to get 0x1 Excel Sterling Silver loins from Sam's club. Very, Very good. Clearly top choice / flirting with low prime. They switched to National Beefs Black Canyon "small 00 or better" supermarket beef. If you have a hookup with US Foods, try Rasteli Elite. Best branded beef to date but one of my buddies switched to Sysco which does not carry it.

                                  1. re: Tom34

                                    Sysco owns Buckhead Beef, or at least they used to......that's their arm into providing many top steakhouses. My buddy used to sell for them. Luger used to order up to 60K a week in Short Loins fro him/them.

                                    1. re: fourunder

                                      I spoke to my buddies Sysco rep about 6 months ago and he mentioned Buckhead Beef & said their top seller was CAB. I get most of my beef & pork from a wholesale butcher friend who brings in hanging beef and will age it on a hook for me but I don't like to bother him unless I have a big order (several hundred $$$) so this thing with Costo, if true is troublesome. Restaurant Depot is hit or miss.

                                2. re: Tom34

                                  "My butcher buddy said the next shoe to drop will be the pumped chicken industry."

                                  Im starting to see a lot of chicken advertised as being "brine/solution free" etc, so Id say he's right on.

                                  We get sent samples of all kinds of stuff at the restaurant, and we got some brined chicken breasts last year. Out of curiosity, we cooked the whole case and did a yield test. The chicken breasts lost 65% of their weight in cooking!

                                  1. re: twyst

                                    65%, that's incredible. This may sound crazy, but hold fast for a minute: Water weighs about 8 lbs per gallon. Most utilities charge less that a penny per gal for water, so if your paying say $1.80 per lb for Boneless chicken breasts and its 15% water your paying 100 times more than the water is worth. Makes one wonder if T. Boone Pickens is behind it all.

                                    1. re: twyst

                                      The chicken breasts lost 65% of their weight in cooking!
                                      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                                      I have no doubt the chicken breast lost some weight , but I doubt very much your number is correct....or you need to tell your chef not to over cook the chicken. Typically, breasts have up to 12% solution added....and depending on portion size (IQF) they are 4, 5, or 6 ounces. Raw chicken may come delivered in less exact sorted weights....but still, I don't think it's possible to lose the number you cite.

                                      For the record....most IQF

                                      1. re: fourunder

                                        I did mis-speak. They were 65% of their original weight, not lost 65%. They were sold by weight, refrigerated, and cryo'd. The original weight was from the cryo package, which had a good bit of solution just loose in the package as well. We used the total weight, with the juice in the cryo package as our AP since that is how it is sold.

                                        It was pretty hilarious. The sample we were sent was so shady we didnt even family meal it, we just cooked it off for a yield test and tossed it. We are a 40 seat tasting menu restaurant, yet US foods and Sysco are constantly trying to send us crap even though we only use them for garbage bags, plastic wrap, sugar etc

                                      2. re: twyst

                                        My butcher buddy sells 2% or less boneless chicken for about .50 cents a lb more. I have had it and it actually tastes like chicken but you CAN'T overcook it. Some people who are used to the pumped stuff may not like the real chicken flavor just like many younger folks like the tasteless farm raised Salmon vs stronger flavored wild Salmon. My problem is the smallest case is 20 lbs & I just don't eat that much of it.

                                    2. This is the original report from the Kansas City Star.

                                      http://www.kansascity.com/beef/

                                      1. I am flabbergasted. Just read this thread and made two (as it turned out, both incorrect) assumptions: 1) probably not "my" Costco, and 2) anyhow, I recognize those regular spaced little mechanical slits from tenderizing, would never buy it to start with. Wrong on both counts.

                                        [Edit: "today's" below means for dinner today, not that they were purchased today.]
                                        Then opened today's Costco USDA Prime Ribeye Steaks and bingo, there are the words "Blade Tenderized". But none of the regular little slash-slash marks that I thought of as the hallmark of "blade tenderized" meat.

                                        I admit I've never read all the fine-print on Costco steak labels, particularly with their Prime grade cuts, and I have a lot of respect for Costco so I'm not intending this to be a slam against them, more of a public self-lashing for being so oblivious.

                                        I'll post pix asap in hopes that somebody can discern some visual clue to the tenderization, I sure don't see any.

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: axial

                                          so, I guess they do it with prime! Yikes! At least they are labeling it now.

                                          1. re: axial

                                            Here are two pix; with luck they will be sized so that any "blade marks" might be apparent to those who know what to look for.

                                             
                                             
                                            1. re: axial

                                              Second set of pix, curving the steaks to show the blade marks. Not that this would be visible in the package, of course.

                                               
                                               
                                              1. re: axial

                                                Nice work and pictures.....it seems they are using what is known as a Cube/Blade Tenderizer method, and not a Jaccard Tenderizer....and I suspect they are done on location after portion sliced. The evidence is not visible because they squish them tightly in the foam trays before wrapping.

                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                  That's a crying shame to do that to high grade valuable cuts. So based on what I see and what you have concluded, this is done after the sub primals are cut up which means the cryovac sub primals are unscathed.

                                                  I guess this means med / med rare / rare / steak eaters, which I would bet most Chowhounders are will have to buy sub primals if they are limited to Costco.

                                                  1. re: Tom34

                                                    The chance of E Coli contamination/infection would not deter me from purchasing a steak pack from Costco....just as I would not be worried about their chopped meat or other items that they handle in the meat locker. ...however, if I felt the blade tenderizing affected the texture in an unpleasant way, then I would change my position.

                                                    I rarely purchase steaks today....preferring instead to roast beef in the oven....I can enjoy a few slices that way, get the beef flavor I crave and limit my red meat intake....but whenever I purchase a Holiday Roast...i will get a slightly larger one then needed and cut off a portion on one end for a future steak.

                                                    1. re: fourunder

                                                      I hear you but my kids are young and like it blood rare and until more time passes and the true dangers (scale) of needling become known I don't want to mess with it. I am out of my buddy's ground sirloin and will be grinding my own accumulated frozen trimmings tomorrow because if the burger isn't red they won't eat it and I just can't feed them rare supper market G.B.

                                              2. re: axial

                                                Fantastic pictures of a very sad thing. I only by the whole sub primals so I have not seen it. If Costco is your only option, and you like it hot pink or red you may have to look into it. Does have some advantages in terms of extra aging and custom steak thickness. Very easy to cut & freezes great if properly wrapped or vacuum sealed.

                                                Unfortunately the general public seems to like needled / pumped products so other stores will likely follow their lead.

                                              3. Ruth's Chris replied to my Facebook query that they did not use mechanical tenderizing on any of their meat.

                                                1. I too recently discovered that Costco blade tenderizes all of its meat. I thought I had noticed a peculiar texture on some prime rib and skirt steak after I had cooked it -- slightly mushy.
                                                  Last week, Feb 25, I spoke to the butcher at the Costco in Novato (Marin County) and asked about the meat. He said it is the company's policy to blade tenderize all meat. If you look at all the labels on all the meat cuts, you will see that in fact everything is blade tenderized. I think it's really unfortunate since their meat used to be quite good. I'm just not going to buy it there anymore even though it's significantly less expensive than my local gourmet butcher (who doesn't blade tenderize).

                                                  1. I'm just heartbroken to read about Costco blading all their meat. Just heartbroken.

                                                    1. A majour slaughterhouse in Canada had a majour malfunction earlier this year with this problem. The machines have to be cleaned very carefully, the machinery and the meat are supposed to be inspected for bacteria. Something went wrong..Hopefully corrective measures will ensure that this never happens again.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: Ruthie789

                                                        I only buy whole sub primals and have not seen any blade marks. Is the needling only occurring with portion controlled products?

                                                        1. re: Tom34

                                                          I am not sure you would see blade marks. I buy a cut in Canada called Chateaubriand it has been tenderized and you cannot see any blade marks. I was stunned to find out that it is a tenderized cut.

                                                          1. re: Ruthie789

                                                            I know what to look for and have seen no signs of needling or blade cuts in (US) whole sub primals. Don't know about Canadian beef. To the best of my knowledge, Chateaubriand is cut from the tenderloin and needling would seen unnecessary.

                                                            1. re: Tom34

                                                              I can only speak with certainty to Costco, as they label the blade tenderized meat. The primal pieces do not have the very bright sticker indicating tenderization. This is Canada

                                                      2. Bumping this post a bit because I think it's a huge issue after seeing a local news story on this. I usually cook my steaks/roasts to medium rare -> medium if I do it right. Their recommendation of cooking to 160 well done is ridiculous. Food safety regulators should just ban the practice as the vast majority of people do not cook their meat (steaks and roasts especially) to 160. Is it me that it seems obvious the practice should be stopped?

                                                        8 Replies
                                                        1. re: LUV_TO_EAT

                                                          In Canada in a few weeks time, all meat that is tenderized is supposed to be labelled as such. No doubt we are in for a surprise as to the number of cuts that have been tenderized. This has been publicized by the Minister of Agriculture.

                                                          1. re: Ruthie789

                                                            Your lucky, it will be years before that happens in the US.

                                                            1. re: Tom34

                                                              It will happen as these cuts of meats are problematic if machines and sanitation of them are overlooked. I wrote our agriculture minister last year, Gerry Rice, of my deep concern about the change of safety and quality of our meats and our overall food industry, after another malfunction happened at one of the majour slaughter and transformation houses. At the time he wrote me a letter assuring me that all measures were in place to insure food safety but this year he comes out with changes. We need to keep at it and voice our views and get things changed. Not saying my mere letter changed anything but suspect he heard from many Canadians that something has to change.

                                                              1. re: Ruthie789

                                                                Sadly enough if they started of with a good product and let it properly age this needling nonsense & pumping would not be necessary.

                                                                1. re: Tom34

                                                                  It goes way beyond needling and pumping. What is given to animals or done to meats that are raised to be lean in order to make them tender? Will provide a link for you. The food industry is on a fast track to the peril of our health. Read below, although it is not so much about the beef for the Russians but is about politics.
                                                                  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonto...

                                                                2. re: Ruthie789

                                                                  Agriculture Minister, is Gerry Ritz, not Gerry Rice.

                                                              2. re: Ruthie789

                                                                They should just stop this practice. It's asking for trouble.

                                                                1. re: LUV_TO_EAT

                                                                  Totally agree, but it is coming to the forefront of the media. It is a hidden practise that it now becoming known.