In the wake of the biggest meat recall in Canadian history, Health Canada announced it will review the science around the process of mechanically tenderizing beef to determine what, if any, precautions should be taken when handling and cooking it.
Sixteen people in Canada have fallen ill from E. coli infection linked to beef originating from XL Foods in Alberta, which was found in early September to be contaminated with the bacteria.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's investigation revealed that at least in some of the cases of people falling ill, a meat tenderizing machine used at Costco stores might be to blame for the contamination.
A CFIA agent noted a metal machine that jabs the steak with sharp, needle-like prongs could transfer bacteria from the surface of either the machine or the meat. Health officials ordered Costco stores throughout Alberta to stop this particular tenderizing process.
"When steaks and beef cuts are mechanically tenderized, there is a potential for bacteria to spread from the surface into the centre of the meat. As a result, there may be an increased chance that bacteria like E. coli are not fully eliminated when these beef products are cooked 'rare,'" Health Canada said in a statement released over the weekend.
Seniors, pregnant women, young children and those with weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk of contracting infection and experiencing serious complications from E. coli.
The health agency said it will look at the likelihood that the tenderizing process can spread bacteria and determine how best to prevent contaminated meat from reaching consumers.
While its review is ongoing, Health Canada advises consumers to cook mechanically tenderized steak and beef cuts to an internal temperature of at least 71 C and use a digital food thermometer to be sure that temperature is reached.
Solid cuts of meat don't pose the same concern because any harmful bacteria present would typically only be on the surface and would be eliminated through cooking.