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.
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:
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:
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. Credit: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services
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.
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.
Follow these safety tips when you’re cooking meat:
Current as of: February 24, 2021
Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.