Food Safety: The Kansas City Star Probes the Beef IndustryDecember 16, 2012 • By Marty Kassowitz
On December 11, 2012, the Kansas City Star published the final installment of “Beef’s Raw Edges,” its three-day investigative series examining the current state of the U.S. beef industry. The project was spearheaded by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Mike McGraw.
The work follows a yearlong investigation during which The Star was given rare access to the processing plants of two of the four major U.S. beef suppliers, as well as packing plants and a large-scale cattle feedlot. The resulting stories highlight issues such as non-therapeutic antibiotic use in livestock, the industry’s funding and propagation of pro-beef research and the safety risks of mechanically tenderized steak.
The Star’s investigation into mechanical tenderization determined that the use of the technology exposes consumers to an increased risk of foodborne illness.
A significant amount of beef consumed in the U.S. is sent through a machine with dozens of needles or blades that puncture and sometimes marinate the steak in an effort to improve the texture of cuts sometimes considered cheaper and tougher.
When the steaks are punctured, however, fecal contaminants on the surface may get driven down further into the meat. If these steaks are cooked on the rarer side, pathogens such as E. coli have the chance to survive within them and eventually infect diners.
In many cases, consumers, restaurant staff and supermarket managers do not know—and cannot tell—when a steak has been mechanically tenderized. A 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found that 90 percent of beef producers are using the technique on at least some cuts, though the practice does not require any additional labeling.