Seen At 11: Advocates Say Labels On Tenderized Beef Could Prevent Deadly Illness

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Summer may be in full swing, but experts have a warning for anyone getting ready to throw a steak on the grill.

As CBS2’s Maurice Dubois reported, some beef on store shelves has undergone a process that could make you sick if not properly cooked.

Teri Gault is a grocery savings expert, and stocks up on beef whenever it’s on sale.

“We eat it about once or twice a week,” Gault said.

Gault knows all about the savings, but one thing she didn’t know is that some of the beef that she’s bought has been man handled a little more than she’d like.

It’s called tenderizing. Meat is pierced with needles or sliced with blades to break down collagen and make it taste better. But the meat could make you sick if not cooked properly.

“It could be quite dangerous,” Brian Buckley said.

Buckley works for the Institute of Culinary Education. He said the process drives surface contaminants, including potentially lethal e-coli, deeper into the meat when cooking is less likely to kill them.

“If you don’t cook the meat thoroughly to 160 degrees all the way through, you could expose people who east more medium to medium rare to E. coli,” he explained.

The problem is there’s no way to know if the meat you’re buying is tenderized. There are no labels to alert consumers.

“I need to know about it, because it does bear on how I’m going to cook it,” Gault said.

Between 200 and 2009 there were five documented outbreaks of e-coli linked to mechanically tenderized beef, leaving 174 people sick, and one dead.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has fought to have beef labeled and said the number of cases is much higher.

“People get ill. You just think, well I may have eaten something that’s not good, but I’ll get over it. So it’s vastly under reported,” she said.

Starting in 2016, tenderized beef will have to be labeled as such, along with cooking instructions.

“They have to cook it differently. A mechanically tenderized steak needs to be cooked more thoroughly for sure,” Chris Waldrop of the Food Policy Institute said.

Gault said she plans to look out for the labels.

“I’m glad it’s coming soon. I’m not one to normally like a lot of labeling because it usually ups the price of food, but I think this is important enough,” she said.

The rule goes into effect in May 2016. About 25 percent of beef sold in stores is tenderized.

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