ABSTRACT

In May 2016, labeling of certain nonintact mechanically tenderized beef (MTB) products was mandated in the United States. MTB products should be handled differently by the consumer because pathogens can be transferred from the exterior to the interior of the meat during the tenderization process. Without labeling, it is difficult to visually distinguish between some intact beef and MTB products, which is a concern because MTB products require higher internal cooking temperatures for safety. An exploratory study was conducted to understand consumer understanding of MTB products and consumer responses to the new label. Thirteen focus groups were convened in rural and urban settings across Virginia and North Carolina between December 2015 and May 2016. Sessions were audiorecorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed through constant-comparison thematic analysis. Although MTB products were commonly bought, prepared, and consumed, consumer awareness of MTB products and the MTB process was limited. Generally, the label confused participants, and they did not understand the message. Specifically, terminology such as “blade tenderized” and “mechanically tenderized” were preferred over the term “needle tenderized” on labels. Once explained, many individuals wanted more information and better messaging. Through a multiprong approach, other messaging methods (e.g., in stores, through technology, and with certifications) were highly valued by consumers and may result in increased message clarity. Ultimately, the intrinsic and extrinsic properties of the beef rather than the MTB product continued to be the primary guide for purchasing and preparation. This study is the first to be conducted regarding American perceptions of MTB products. An understanding of consumer awareness of MTB products and labels is needed to develop targeted risk messaging communication tools.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Consumer awareness of MTB products is limited.

  • Participants prefer “blade tenderized” and “mechanically tenderized” to “needle tenderized.”

  • Labels must be coupled with multiprong campaigns to disseminate new information.

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