June 6/Washington/Associated Press -- Beef tenderized by machines before it is sold in grocery stores could soon carry labels warning customers to cook the meat thoroughly.

The Agriculture Department has proposed to require the new package labels and cooking instructions on the meat, which is poked with needles or blades to increase tenderness.

That process can transfer pathogens from the outside of the cut of beef to the inside, making the meat less safe if it is eaten uncooked or not cooked enough. The labels would urge consumers to cook the meat to 145 degrees for three minutes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there have been five outbreaks of illness linked to mechanically tenderized beef reported since 2003.

The meat industry criticized the proposed rule, arguing that calling meats “mechanically tenderized” could be misleading in making consumers think the meat is something different than what they already know.

“If, for example, Ford were suddenly forced to call an Explorer a ‘Robotically Assembled Ford Explorer,’ a buyer might think the car has been significantly changed,” said James. H. Hodges of the American Meat Institute.

Consumer groups have said the labels are needed because consumers don’t know when meats have been tenderized.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who has long argued for stricter food safety rules and sits on the spending subcommittee that oversees USDA, urged the department to move quickly to make the rule final.

“With summer grilling season upon us, this proposed rule comes at a great time to raise awareness among consumers of how important it is to cook their meat appropriately,” she said.