Some food experts are trying to get more Canadians to cook their meat in a safer way.
The warning comes after more than 1,800 products have been recalled from XL foods due to E.coli and 16 people fell ill after eating contaminated meat.
Domenic Pedulla, a food safety consultant, says he’s on a mission to convince people to cook all their meat using a thermometer.
"Nobody wants to think they're buying food that has bacteria on it or pathogens, and some of the bacteria are pathogens.… They can make us sick, but we do it with poultry — we cook it thoroughly," Pedulla explained.
University of Alberta microbiologist Lynn McMullen says there are simply no guarantees.
"There's always a risk that a small number of organisms are present," she said.
Expert advises against rare steaks
Pedulla says that means in some cases giving up rare steak, especially when it comes to mechanically-tenderized cuts.
"If you don't know the source of that beef or what they've done to it before you got it, you've got to cook it as though it’s a hamburger.… There's lots of resistance to that, lots [of people] say 'I want my steak rare.'"
Mechanically tenderizing meat is a common practice and has been used by suppliers, restaurants and retailers for years to improve the tenderness and flavour of cooked beef.
Health Canada says some meat handlers, and even some Canadians at home, tenderize cuts of beef, including steaks and roasts, using machines or tools made for this process.
Officials say the internal temperature of a steak, or other solid cut of meat, is not a significant health concern because harmful bacteria that may be present would normally only be on the surface of the meat, and would be eliminated even if cooked "rare."
But when beef cuts are mechanically tenderized there is a potential for bacteria to spread from the surface into the centre, increasing the chance that bacteria like E. coli O157:H7 is not fully eliminated when the product is cooked "rare."
In September, four people from Edmonton got sick after eating XL steaks that had been needle tenderized.
New labelling could be on its way, says Health Canada
Health Canada is reviewing the issue and wants retailers to start letting customers know when that process is used.
The agency's scientific review will look at how the tenderizing process can spread bacteria, and any best practices that can be applied by industry to prevent the spread of bacteria before a product reaches consumers.
Health Canada is also actively working with the retail and food industry to support its efforts to identify mechanically-tenderized beef for consumers through labels, signage or other means.
Officials say they expect the industry will start putting these measures in place over the next two to three weeks. In the meantime, Health Canada advises consumers who are uncertain if a product has been mechanically tenderized to ask the food seller or food service provider.
While the review is underway, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are encouraging Canadians to cook mechanically-tenderized steak and beef cuts to an internal temperature of at least 71 C — which is roughly "medium" doneness — to ensure that any bacteria that may be present in the meat are killed.