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How to cook mechanically tenderized meat safely

​​​​​​​​When meat (such as steaks and roasts) is mechanically tenderized, needles or blades pierce the meat to make it more tender and easier to chew. Meat suppliers and sellers, restaurants, and even home cooks do this. The needles or blades may also add flavour, like marinades.

It’s important to know how to cook this meat properly so you don’t get sick.

What are the risks of mechanically tenderized meat?

The health risks of eating mechanically tenderized meat come from E. coli, a type of bacteria found in the intestines of humans and animals.

It’s normal for E. coli to be on the surface of intact (not mechanically tenderized) raw meat. The heat from cooking or grilling the meat kills the E. coli. But with mechanically tenderized meat, the E. coli gets pushed from the surface of the meat to the inside, where it may not be killed during cooking.

Most types of E. coli don’t make people sick. But some types, like E. coli O157:H7, are very harmful to people and can cause:

  • pain or cramping in the abdomen (belly)
  • diarrhea (watery stool which may be bloody)
  • throwing up
  • kidney failure
  • death

Your risk of getting sick from mechanically tenderized meat or ground meat is about 5 times higher than from intact meat. The risk is even higher for:

  • older adults
  • young children
  • pregnant people
  • people who are already sick

How do I know if meat has been mechanically tenderized?

You can’t tell if meat has been mechanically tenderized by looking at it, because blade and needle marks close up and disappear. When you buy meat, always check the label—it will say if it’s mechanically tenderized and tell you about safe cooking temperatures.

If you’re at a restaurant, you can ask if the meat is mechanically tenderized and what cooking temperatures they use.

Label on mechanically tenderized meat says “blade tenderized” and gives the safe cooking temperature. 

Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services

Is it safe to cook mechanically tenderized meat rare to medium rare?

When meat is mechanically tenderized, harmful E. coli bacteria can get inside the meat. Cooking mechanically tenderized meat like steaks and roasts rare to medium rare—below 63°C (145°F)—is not hot enough to kill the bacteria inside.

If meat isn’t mechanically tenderized, is it safe to cook it rare to medium?

Intact meat has bacteria on the surface, but not the inside. You can safely eat intact meat cooked rare to medium if it’s cooked to at least 71°C (160°F) on the surface. This temperature is hot enough to kill harmful germs.

How can I cook meat safely?

​​Follow these safety tips when you’re cooking meat:

  • Always use a food thermometer when cooking meat.
  • Cook mechanically tenderized meat like steaks and roasts to at least 63°C (145°F) on the inside. Cook ground meat to 71°C (160°F) on the inside.
  • When you cook mechanically tenderized steak, flip it 2 times to cook it evenly.
  • Download and print a raw meat safety poster​ from Alberta Health Services.

Current as of: February 24, 2021

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services