The US government has failed to finalise plans for labels to be placed on mechanically tenderised beef, products that consumer advocates say raises the risk of illness.

The US Department of Agriculture and the White House Office of Management and Budget did not meet the deadline for the criteria for the labels to be set by the end of 2014, which would have seen the labels on products by 2016.

“This unnecessary delay means that consumers will remain at risk from these products until 2018,” Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute of the Consumer Federation of America, told just-food.

It is unclear what caused the delay. The OMB said it had received the rules on 21 November but declined to comment further. THe USDA had not returned a request for comment at the time of writing.

Waldrop said: “I don’t know exactly what caused the delay. I do know that the rule sat at the Department for several months before being sent to OMB in late November. OMB could have expedited the rule but chose not to for some reason, despite our urging that they do so.”

Reflecting on the process of mechanical tenderisation, Waldrop said the way meat is tenderised by processors means the finished products need to be cooked differently than other lines.

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“The blades and needles used in the mechanical tenderisation process can drive pathogens on the surface of the meat into the interior, which puts consumers at greater risk and means the products must be cooked differently than intact products. In addition, mechanically tenderised beef products look the same as intact beef products, so consumers are unable to differentiate between the products without sufficient identifying information on the label. In order to protect consumers, these products must be labelled so consumers can identify the products and provided with cooking instructions so they know that they must cook them differently,” Waldrop said.

“Incidentally, Canada, one of the US’s largest trading partners, already requires a mandatory label for mechanically-tenderised beef. In its evaluation of mechanical tenderisation prior to the label’s approval, Canada found a five-fold increase in risk from E. coli O157:H7 in mechanically-tenderised products when compared to intact cuts of beef.”