Needle or Blade tenderized?

Have you observed new labels on some steak (beef) packages at your local grocery stores and wholesale clubs?

Beginning May 17, 2016 – USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture)’s branch, FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) started requiring meat processors to disclose mechanical tenderization and provide safe cooking instructions on meat product labels for customers to know how to handle these products.

Keep in mind that since 2000, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) received reports of six (yes, you heard it correct!) outbreaks from MTB (mechanically tenderized beef) products prepared in restaurants and your homes. 

What is MTB? To increase tenderness, some cuts of beef are tenderized mechanically by piercing them with needles or small blades in order to break up tissue. Typically, this process takes place before the beef is packaged and sold in grocery stores. It can also occur at the grocery store’s butcher counter, at a restaurant, or in the home.

What is the reason for enhanced label? MTB products look no different from other intact products, so without disclosure on the label, consumers may not know about this “higher food safety” risk, as the blades or needles can introduce pathogens from the surface of the beef to the interior. Undercooking MTB products was a significant contributing factor in the previous outbreak cases. Some cases resulted in hospitalization and HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome).

What is changed? Beginning May 2016, home cooks, restaurants, and other food service facilities will have enhanced information about the MTB products along with cooking instructions so they know how to safely prepare them.

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What is safe temperature? According to USDA and science, cook these MTB products to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F. Don’t forget to measure with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source.  Important: For safety, you must allow meat to rest for at least three minutes after it has been removed from the heat source before carving or consuming.  During this post-cooking (rest) time, the internal temperature destroys harmful pathogens. This cooking temperature and three minutes allow the same effectiveness as cooking to 165°F.

You can read more about it on USDA’s Food Safety results page. You can call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 for questions and concerns.

Safe grilling y’all!

Continue reading “Needle or Blade tenderized?”


Local-grown or not?


The “tractor-to-table” (or farm-to-fork or whatever else you call it) movement attracts restaurants and grocery stores to adapt to guests wanting locally grown foods that may be looked as more “natural.”  Food establishment operators may forget that several factors make food commodities from small local suppliers a possible source of brand protection risk, especially for quick-serve and fast-casual operations.

Factors for the operators when “tractor-to-table” movement is added:

All food establishment operators know about these risks and this is nothing new.  The operators and decision-makers must focus on how the “tractor-to-table” approach makes business sense so long as these risks are identified and remedied in a systematic way, and not just being part of a standard operating procedure (SOP) document. Unless operators manage risks with a layered approach and building food safety into daily culture, there are more chances of failure.

  • Employee knowledge and food-safety awareness.

Operators attract transient workers like students, workers that are searching for any job, workers that are retired and someone who is simply new to workforce.  They lack a background in food safety. Their leader (supervisor) may also be new to their responsibilities. The risk elimination and management is a must.

  • Brand protection and regulatory compliance.

In a social media dominant world with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Yelp – bad customer experience or an alleged foodborne illness linked to a particular location/brand or food supplier can go viral—pun intended—in minutes.  Public health department and consumers will know about the problems instantly. With the federal, state and local regulatory workforce being at more aware-level, operators and risk management officials need to know how to assess and remedy each situation very quickly. These so called challenges go beyond the regulatory compliance level. The media and guests will demand to be informed.  Enhanced and efficient crisis communications strategy can be very useful in preventing severe damage to brand identity and overall reputation if rumors and wrong information is shared and re-tweeted by the consumers.

  • Farms – Supply chain issues.

The recent Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires monitoring and inspection for farm operations. Smaller food suppliers, which are not covered by FSMA, are less scrutinized. This doesn’t mean local suppliers don’t follow proper food safety and sanitation procedures. They are less regulated, which could increase the potential risk of tainted foods entering the supply chain.

How do we address these factors?

  • Being Proactive

Revise and modify training to ensure essential practices are included and related rationale is clearly explained and continuously refreshed.  This training is for everyone, not just new hires.  Review every step in food handling to document potential gaps. Where are the more transient food handlers? Where the most significant turnover? Every vendor in supply chain is visited to check their food safety and sanitation practices.  If FSMA rules exempt the vendor, the review and visit become even more important.  A crisis response plan is included in training so that food handlers know their roles before any critical event happens.

  • Timely Identification

Establishment operators must have proper system(s) in place to identify issues quickly. Example: Storage facilities are continuously monitored for safe holding temperature and sanitation. Invest in technology so that temperature monitors provide 24/7 coverage and alert you when critical issues occur.

Let the guests and customers alert you to major concerns that they experienced during their visit. Monitor these hotlines and email ID to resolve as they are reported. Most social media will display a “trending” item/topic. Have dedicated staff member monitor web-based activities.

  • Quick Remedy

Take immediate corrective actions in conjunction with senior management personnel.  Launch the crisis response plan as soon as possible.  Consult legal authority, crisis communications team or outside agencies and others who need to weigh in and manage the crisis. Identify the root cause for the problem and how it can be prevented in future.  Learning from a successfully managed crisis, update food safety and sanitation processes.

Reach out to the guest as soon as possible and inform them that the crisis has been resolved. Let them know that they should feel confident in a positive future dining experience.

I am hopeful that this will help you decide whether you want to go “local” or not!

Planning a Picnic? Wanna serve Safe Food?


Are you planning a 4th July picnic? a company picnic? or a weekend get-together? A few well-planned steps may mean the difference between a food safety nightmare and sure success.

Although you may see ants, insects and other crawling creatures outdoors, it is not possible to see, taste or smell harmful microorganisms that may cause illness if food served is mishandled. Make sure that you pack food safety in your carryout box or picnic basket before leaving.

Warm temperatures are ideal for bacteria and other harmful pathogens to multiply and cause foodborne illness. Pathogens grow best between 41°F and 135°F. Potentially hazardous foods transported without proper temperature control will not stay safe for long. Please make a note of the following to avoid your family, customers, friends, relatives and guests making a comment to you that they have the “Summer Bug”!



  • PLAN AHEAD. Plan the right amount of food. That way, you will not have to worry about the storage of leftovers.
  • Foods cooked ahead need to be cooked in adequate time to thoroughly chill in the refrigerator. Store and transport the food with sufficient ice or refrigeration to MAINTAIN FOODS at 41°F or lower.
  • Carryout foods such as fried chicken and barbecue, should be consumed by the guest within two hours or pack ahead of time to store them REFRIGERATED.
  • Divide large quantities of bulk foods into SHALLOW CONTAINERS for quick cooling and quick reheating outdoors.
  • Keep all meat and poultry, seafood, dairy items refrigerated to minimize bacterial growth. Use insulated coolers, ice packs, refrigerated containers on trucks to ensure safe temperature. When handling raw meats, remove from the cooler only the amount that will fit the cooking needs.
  • Pack salads, deli meats and other cold items by nesting dishes in containers of ice.
  • When outdoors, keep the coolers and other food storage equipment in the shade. Keep the lid closed and AVOID FREQUENT OPENING. Do not forget to replenish ice in the cooler as it melts.
  • If entertaining, set out only SMALL AMOUNTS of food at time and replace with fresh food rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already has food in it.
  • Use SEPARATE COOLERS for drinks so the food containers won’t be constantly opened and closed.
  • KEEP HOT FOOD HOT until served. Use a chafing dish, warming tray, steam table, slow cooking pot or on the side of the cooking grill.
  • To destroy all harmful microorganisms, COOK ALL MEATS properly. Keep a product thermometer available to check the internal temperature. Cook poultry to at least 165F and burgers to 150F.

Power outage? Worried about your food?

No lights? No A/C? No power to your refrigerator?

The techniques for handling food during power outages, when applied, will reduce the possibility of bacterial growth in food and help food remain safe for human consumption.

Raw Foods:

As a general rule, discard fresh meats, fish, poultry, or dairy products if the color or odor is poor or questionable. The rule is “When in doubt, throw it out.” Saving or eating a possibly contaminated food product is never worth the risk of food borne illness.

Perishable (or potentially hazardous) Foods:

Perishable food, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy products and leftovers that have been held at temperatures greater than 41ºF for more than four hours should be discarded.

Thawed food in the freezer, including raw meats and vegetables and fruits without sauces, that contain ice crystals or have been held at 41ºF or below can be refrozen and cooked. However, do not refreeze thawed cooked foods or packaged dinners that have thawed out. Pre-cooked thawed items are highly susceptible to bacterial growth.

Maintaining Foods Safe in the Freezer:

After a power outage, keep the freezer door shut for as long as possible. A full freezer will keep food at freezing temperatures for about two days. A half-full freezer will keep food frozen for about one day. If the power is off for several days consider using dry ice. Check the yellow pages of your telephone directory for “ice”. Many grocery stores have dry ice. Call ahead to make sure that the grocer has an adequate supply. Allow 2 ½-3 pounds of dry ice per cubic foot of freezer space in a chest freezer. In an upright freezer more dry ice is required so that ice can be placed on each shelf. Because dry ice can burn exposed skin, do not touch it with bare hands. Follow instructions on dry ice usage carefully. Make sure it is wrapped in several layers of newspaper before placing it in the freezer.


Cook or heat food to a minimum of 145º. If food is to be reheated, it must be rapidly reheated to a minimum of 165º. Use a probe-type metal thermometer to test the final cooking temperature.

Store perishable or potentially hazardous food cold food at a minimum of 41º F or below.

Water and Cleanliness

Safe potable water must be available and used for cooking, dishwashing, drinking and maintaining personal hygiene. If the Municipal water supply is not safe, use bottled, boiled or treated water. Make sure dishes and utensils are clean by washing, rinsing and sanitizing them in safe potable water. Sanitization is very important at this time. Effective sanitization can be obtained by adding one ounce of regular household chlorine bleach (unscented type) to each gallon of safe potable cool water. Wash with soap and water first, rinse with clean water second, and sanitize with bleach water, using the proper proportion of bleach to water. Allow bleach-water solution to air-dry on the utensils. Store the clean utensils in a clean place to protect them from recontamination.

The use of single service items is encouraged to reduce the possibility of food borne illness. Paper plates and cups, plastic knives and forks that are used only once and discarded are highly recommended.

Insects and Rodent Activity

Since air conditioning usually does not work during power outages, door and windows are usually kept open. Insects and rodents may gain entrance into the building. Make sure that doors and windows are adequately screened, using screening material of not less than 16 mesh to the inch.

By discarding spoiled food, controlling food temperatures, keeping utensils clean and sanitary and by keeping pests out, the fear of food borne illness can be eliminated from your post-disaster recovery concerns.

If you have specific concerns, please let me know or call your local Health Department.

Hope you get your power and utilities back up and running soon! Stay safe!