Information Document and Request for Scientific Data - E. coli O157 in mechanically tenderized raw beef products

December 2012

I. Context

Development of guidance on tenderized raw beef products

Health Canada Food Directorate has begun a review of the science around the safe handling and cooking of mechanically tenderized beef (MTB) products to identify what advice should be communicated to consumers and industry. To facilitate this work, Health Canada is issuing a call for data to inform a risk assessment on E. coli O157 in mechanically tenderized raw beef products (i.e., those products that were subjected to a treatment where tools penetrated the surface of the meat) and identify potential mitigation strategies that could be applied by various stakeholders along the food chain (e.g., processors, retailers, consumers). This risk assessment may include quantitative analyses. Additionally, this work will take into consideration how mechanically tenderized raw beef products are handled at processing, retail and by consumers as well as how they are marketed and will consider the impact of these handling steps and marketing on foodborne illness.

II. Background

Mechanically Tenderized raw beef and link to foodborne illness

Foodborne infection with E. coli O157 remains a significant cause of gastroenteritis in Canada and has been implicated in outbreaks worldwide.

Contamination of structurally intact beef cuts or steaks by E. coli O157 is generally superficial and the bacterium can be inactivated by common cooking practices. However, it has been demonstrated that bacteria, including pathogens such as E. coli O157 and Salmonella spp., can be transferred from the surface to the interior of meat cuts by needle and/or blade tenderization or injection of marinades and brines. Internalized bacterium are not more resistant to thermal stress but an adequate internal temperature must be reached for their inactivation. Recent E. coli O157 outbreaks linked to mechanically tenderized raw beef products have shown that such products may represent a different level of risk relative to intact beef cuts in certain circumstances.

Policies and guidelines to assist in the management of the potential health risk associated with mechanically tenderized beef products have been developed by the United States; however, no such guidelines exist elsewhere. The development of Canadian risk management guidance must take into consideration Canadian specific practices at different levels along the food continuum (e.g., processor, retailer and consumer), as well as data on microbial prevalence and concentration at different points relevant to the Canadian context.

III. Request for Scientific Data and Information

As stated, the context of this request is to support a Health Canada risk assessment and scientific investigation addressing issues pertaining to tenderized raw beef products produced and consumed in Canada. Various types of information, including laboratory or other monitoring data, could be useful in the design and execution of this risk assessment.

For any data of microbiological nature, it should be noted that the context under which samples were taken is important and that this information should accompany the submitted package (i.e., sampling plans and protocols used to gather data). Additional to pathogen specific data, information may include concentration and prevalence of process or sanitary indicators such as Enterobacteriaceae or generic E. coli, Total plate count etc.

Information of interest for this request includes but is not limited to:

  1. Production-level information
    1. Volumes of inputs received (animals)
    2. Volume of MTB produced
    3. Details of measures to minimize microbial contamination
    4. Packing and storage conditions

  2. Retail-level information
    1. Types and volumes of inputs received (carcass, primal cuts, sub-primal cuts)
    2. Details of manipulation and processing
    3. Packing and storage conditions (including state in which the products are offered for sale)
    4. Details on identification of mechanically tenderized products from supplier or to the consumer
    5. Details of any guidance provided to retailers regarding MTB historically and currently
    6. Details of any guidance offered to consumers regarding MTB historically and currently

  3. Type of equipment used
    1. Protocol (general or specific) for equipment used
    2. Sanitation practices (including protocol, product used and frequency of use)

  4. Distribution chain
    1. Description of distribution chain.
    2. Average or specific time for products in transport and storage between stages in the distribution chain.

  5. Consumer practices
    1. Cooking, storage and consumption behaviours of the Canadian population

  6. Microbiological monitoring data at any stage in the production and distribution chain
    1. Prevalence and/or concentration values, generated from routine and/or exceptional testing of carcasses, primal cuts, sub primal cuts (including any testing on steaks or roasts)
    2. Prevalence and/or concentration values, generated from routine and/or exceptional testing of environmental surfaces close to or at the tenderization step
    3. Any other relevant microbiological data on product or processing and/or retail environment that may be available.

IV. Information and Data

Information and data may be submitted in writing either by regular mail or electronically at the address indicated below. If you are submitting information or data electronically, please use the words "Mechanically Tenderized Raw Beef Products Data and Information" in the subject box of your e-mail.

This call for data will close at 12:00 am EST on January 20, 2013.

Mailing address:
Health Canada, Bureau of Microbial Hazards
Evaluation Division
251 Sir Frederick Banting Driveway, Postal Locator: 2204E
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A OL2

Confidential and/or unpublished information

Health Canada recognizes that some of the available information and/or relevant data that is being requested may be unpublished or of a confidential nature. If submitted, unpublished information would remain the property of the submitting organization or individual and its confidentiality will be safeguarded in so far as it is possible to do so within current regulations governing such issues. Specific issues relating to confidentiality should be discussed directly between the information owners and Health Canada. For these and other issues please contact the Bureau of Microbial Hazards through the contact information provided above.

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