Carbon monoxide keeps meat red longer; is that good?

In its response a month later, Safeway said it would drop the packaging, explaining the committee's concerns may have "raised concerns with customers who do not have the benefit of the background on this process."

Tyson Foods tsn in August curtailed use of the packaging after it, too, got a letter. Tyson cited "lack of customer demand."

Giant Food, a Maryland-based chain, dropped it this month. It said, "Some customers found the retention of the red color … to be confusing." Kroger and Publix have also shunned the packaging.

But Hormel hrl, one of the technology's biggest backers along with foodmaker Cargill, says it's put out 120 million packages of product using carbon monoxide and has a consumer complaint ratio that rivals "the Maytag repairman," Hormel Vice President Phil Minerich said Tuesday in a hearing before the House Committee on Agriculture.

Opponents say consumers don't know they're buying carbon-monoxide-infused packages. Labels don't disclose it, and the packaging looks like other meats packed in what foodmakers call "modified atmosphere packaging," or MAP.

In MAP packages, foodmakers use a combination of gases — nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide — to battle the aging effects that regular air has on foods. Leafy-green companies and potato-chipmakers use MAP, but they don't use carbon monoxide. Kalsec's rosemary extract is used by meat producers in a non-carbon-monoxide MAP format.

Stupak, who chairs the House's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, has co-authored a bill that would require a safety notice on meat, seafood and poultry using carbon monoxide packaging.

He says committee investigators recently found healthy-looking imported fish packaged with carbon monoxide to be decomposed. The proposed notice would warn consumers to "discard any product with an unpleasant odor, slime, or a bulging package."

No 'alarmist' label needed?

Riley of the meat institute says there's no evidence an "alarmist" label is needed. "Packaging gases have never been labeled," Minerich told lawmakers Tuesday.

The hearing — whose witnesses included Cargill and Tyson representatives — provided a more supportive atmosphere for the meat industry than hearings held by Dingell and Stupak. Kalsec refused an invitation to testify, and several consumer groups complained that they weren't invited.

The FDA has so far allowed carbon monoxide packaging for beef, pork and raw tuna when used as an ingredient in tasteless smoke, used as a preservative.

Other regulators have been tougher. The European Union doesn't allow it for meat and tuna. Canada bans it in fish; Singapore does for fresh tuna.

Kalsec says a big concern is that meat not stored at a proper temperature might spoil but still look good. The European Union had the same worry in 2001 when a committee said carbon monoxide in packaged meats posed "no health concerns" as long as meats were kept at proper temperatures. If not, "The presence of carbon monoxide may mask visual evidence of spoilage," it said.

Kalsec also says that the FDA should have treated the carbon monoxide as a "color additive," which requires a rigorous FDA safety review. Instead, the FDA allows it under regulations for substances that are "generally recognized as safe," based on evidence submitted by proponents. The U.S. Department of Agriculture shares the FDA's stance on the issue.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...