Published on Nov 19, 2013
(Truthstream Media) On top of all the other troubling ingredients found in foods and/or used in its production and cultivation, there is apparently also carbon monoxide to be concerned about. Apparently the FDA — our loving watchdogs — have ok’d its use as a color preservative in meats, as it apparently helps keep us appearances for as much as 20 days. The carbon monoxide (known for its deadly tail pipe exhaust and as a carcinogen in cigarette smoke) is used to give fish and meat a fresh “red” look to appeal to buyers. However, some have warned this can also give spoiled or less-than-fresh foods the same glossy red-appearance — that is, until consumers come home to a rotten surprise.
Consumer groups and a natural flavor, color and extract company named Kalsec have challenged the use of carbon monoxide, arguing that while it can keep meat appealing for nearly three weeks while unwrapped meat is remains attractive for only a few, it poses a problem, claiming that consumers might be ‘fooled into buying spoiled or old meat.’
EnlargeBy Tim Loehrke, USA TODAYJim Rekas looks over meat selections at a Giant store in Herndon, Va. The grocery chain has dropped carbon monoxide-infused packaging.
Rep. John Dingell
USA TODAY file
Kalsec has waged a two-year fight and spent $800,000 to battle food regulators and meat producers over a fledgling practice of packaging fresh meat with a harmless dose of carbon monoxide.
The gas keeps meat an appealing red for more than 20 days — about twice as long as other popular packaging and far longer than the few days unwrapped meat stays red in a butcher’s case.
The red color is the problem, say Kalsec, consumer groups and several lawmakers. The gas not only keeps meat red while on the shelf but after it’s spoiled.
They say consumers — who consider color when picking meat — will be fooled into buying spoiled or old meat and not smell trouble until they open the package at home.
The packaging presents “serious consumer deception and food-safety risks,” Kalsec says in a filing to the Food and Drug Administration. It wants the practice banned.
The meat industry disputes Kalsec’s claims and says it is running a “baseless” scare campaign because carbon monoxide packaging would obliterate a rival Kalsec product.
A family-run firm with 300 employees, Kalsec sells natural colorings, spices and herbs. One of its products is a rosemary extract that meat processors use in packaging that keeps meat a nice red for about half as long as the carbon monoxide-infused packaging.
When Kalsec saw major meat companies switch to carbon monoxide, “It started an attack campaign,” says Janet Riley of the American Meat Institute, who says Kalsec’s “arguments are hollow.”
The meat industry says shoppers are tipped off to bad meat by bulging packages in stores and expired use-or-freeze-by dates. By keeping meat fresh-looking longer, the industry hopes to save millions of dollars a year by selling meat that consumers would have shunned before because of poor color.
Carbon monoxide packaging is “not a public health issue,” says Michael Osterholm, a public health official at the University of Minnesota who often criticizes foodmakers for poor food-safety controls.
Osterholm, who also consults for food companies Fresh Express and Hormel Foods, says he’s never heard of a food-borne illness outbreak tied to spoiled meat, in part because bacteria such as E. coli don’t thrive in spoiled meat because spoilage bacteria out-compete them for nutrients. “There are huge issues in food safety right now, and this isn’t one of them.”
Yet the issue is playing big on Capitol Hill. Two Democrats from Kalsec’s home state, Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak, have taken up the matter as part of a wide-ranging assault on the government’s food-safety record.
Their committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, has not only held two food-safety hearings this year in which the issue was discussed, but they’ve also sent letters to meat companies and grocers challenging the use of carbon monoxide packaging. Almost one by one, the letter-getters have folded.
Pages of questions
In June, the legislators wrote Safeway (SWY), noting that the company, “unlike most other supermarket chains,” sold fresh meat packaged in a way to “alter the color of the meat to make it appear fresh and wholesome indefinitely.”
The letter then posed pages of questions for Safeway, including how it “assures that consumers, particularly those of declining eyesight, can read the use-or-freeze-by dates on packages.”
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.
Healthy eating is a loosely defined trend in itself these days. There are many variations on what “healthy” means and will likely differ among each person asked. While strolling through the supermarket, the average person would likely agree that, yes, eating a nice piece of baked tilapia with vegetables would be a healthy meal.
Until a person actually scans the ingredients list of anything, they never know exactly what they will be ingesting. Imagine the surprise when, on that nice, fresh-appearing tilapia, it is discovered that carbon monoxide is the ingredient that helps to “preserve color.”
Say what? People install carbon monoxide detectors in their homes to prevent sudden death from the colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. Carbon monoxide is emitted primarily through things such as automobiles and factories and generally poses little immediate threat when released in an open space.