“I like a nice rare steak, delicious. However, now I hear that some “pre-marinaded” meats are actually “injected” with marinades during processing. Does this mean bacteria on the outside of the meat could now be on the inside? Should I eat these steaks well done instead of rare?”
My first response is NO. However, let’s get a little introduction into marinating meat before I go into answering the question. Originally, marinades were briny liquids preserved, tenderized and
flavored foods. However over the years, the need to preservation of meat has decreased and now the main reason to marinate meat is to tenderize and flavor it. Fun Meat Fact #1: Modern day methods of marinating meat allows for budget cuts (usually more tough) to be transformed into a flavored and tender piece of meat still for a budget price. Whereas a high quality cut of meat does not need to be marinated for tenderness, but however, can still be flavored through a marinade if one wished.
So how does a marinade work? Essentially, there are three “schools” of marinating and tenderizing meat.
First is using an acid. Fun Meat Fact #2: Acidic method of marinating tenderizes by breaking down the proteins which is a process called denaturing. Breaking down of proteins softens the meat and creates pockets into which flavoring can enter. However, if too much acidity is added, it can result in the opposite effect and make the meat tough rather than tender. Acids commonly used for marinating include vinegars, tomato, or citrus.
Second method of marinating is enzymatic. Enzymatic marinades work by breaking down the connective tissue in meat. However, it is possible that if over marinating with the enzymatic method, meat can turn out mushy. Most enzymes in meat marinades derive from papaya, pineapple, ginger, and kiwi.
Third method of marinating is dairy, which is the most mild of all three, however can be the most effective. Given enough time, it will tenderize the most. The calcium helps break down the proteins (denature) and allows the flavor to enter as well as tenderize. Common dairy products used to tenderize include buttermilk or yogurt.
Now the way WE actually marinate may vary from the way other processors or well known companies marinate, but I can tell you how our process works. The majority of our marinades use either the acidic or enzymatic method of marinating and are a soak marinade. We mix up our marinades (most of which come in powder form and get re-hydrated with water) and add them to the meat to be marinated. We do a process called tumbling. Since over turnover for marinated products needs to be rather quick, we don’t have the space or time to let our marinated meats sit for a day or two like you would in your fridge while marinating at home. A vacuum tumbler expedites this process. Fun Meat Fact #3: According to the vendor, “vacuum tumbling enables optimum protein extraction by opening the cell structure of the meat allowing the brine or marinade to penetrate evenly throughout the product, which produces a juicier, more tender, and flavorful product”. (Koch Equipment) Essentially this machine is a large stainless steel drum which draws a vacuum and then spins “tumbling” the meat around inside of it. Depending on the size and consistency of meat dictates its tumble time. Large products like tri-tips can tumble for up to 2 hours, but a very thin piece of meat such a skirt steak only requires being tumbled for 15 minutes. You can buy small household versions of this product I’m sure which can be found at Cabela’s or Koch Equipment.
With that said, at our shop, the only thing we inject is our hams, pastramis, and smoked turkeys which are injected with a brine (salt and sugar solution) and are then cooked to their required safe temperature. None of our marinated meat gets inject so when I first read this question I was actually surprised to hear that there are places that inject or at least there is information out there that suggests such. So to answer your question, I would say NO. I would not be leery of beef products that have been marinated. Again if you are really concerned, read the label. If the product was indeed injected, I’m sure it would have to state so on the label. The likelihood of outside surface bacteria on most cuts of meat that are usually marinated is slim. Our number one meat cut that we marinate is tri-tips and these come into us “peeled” meaning they’ve been trimmed of their outside fat layer. Same with our skirt steaks, flank steaks, hanger steaks, and other cuts of meat that we tend to marinate. Fun Meat Fact #4: In fact most steaks bought in the store have been trimmed at the process of their “outside surfaces” as well as go through a rigorous packaging method to prevent any sort of spread of bacteria as well as keep a stable shelf life. So I would not fear with serving any whole muscle beef cut on the rare side. As I’ve said before, our food is indeed pretty darn safe and we should not be in fear while eating many of the delicious products put out! For more information about food safety, check out some previous blogs which can be found here and here.
Thank you for reading, as always. Happy Friday everyone. And enjoy a juicy, delicious, marinated piece of meat today will ya!?