Carbon Monoxide as a Meat Preservative

Carbon monoxide in our food?

For the moment, lets forget that carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas. And let’s also ignore the fact that pumping a small amount of carbon monoxide into a package of meat is supposedly safe.

Now why in the world (you might ask) would anyone even THINK of adding carbon monoxide to a package of, say, ground beef? Simple: When carbon monoxide interacts with meat pigments, the pigments do something interesting – they stay nice and red much longer.

So let’s forget the poisonous gas part. Let’s pretend that instead of a poisonous gas, carbon monoxide is as delightful and toxin-free as a spring breeze. If that were true, adding carbon monoxide to meat would still be a really bad idea for one reason: When meat stays red, consumers can be fooled into thinking old meat is fresh.

But of course carbon monoxide IS a poisonous gas. Even so, the FDA thought it would be a splendid idea to add it to meat products.

As I told you in the e-Alert “Liv For the Moment” (3/1/06), in 2004 the FDA approved the use of modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), which uses a variety of gases to help preserve meat and, in the case of carbon monoxide, keep the meat looking fresh. That was one year after the European Union banned the use of carbon monoxide because a review panel thought the practice would deceive customers and expose them to unsafe meat.

Ohand one more thingyou’ll never know if you’re buying MAP treated meat because the FDA doesn’t require manufacturers or stores to alert consumers when this process is used.

Last month, Food Product Daily reported that the Committee on Agriculture in the U.S. House of Representatives is “mulling over” a proposal that would ban the use of carbon monoxide in meat packaging.

Mulling it over! Wow – I feel less toxic already!

In a February 2006 article, the New York Times noted that the A&P and Pathmark grocery chains had already stopped using MAP treated meat. Imagine that – someone with good sense at both of those chains recognized a bad idea and rejected it, even though it had the FDA stamp of approval.

If you don’t like the idea of eating meat treated with carbon monoxide, talk to the manager of the meat department in your local grocery. Ask him if he sells meat with modified atmosphere packaging. If the answer is yes, let him know you’re going elsewhere to purchase meat products. That’s how a bad idea gets changed. We don’t have time to wait for Congress to mull it over.