This toxic practice makes seriously decayed meat look fresh for weeks and is banned in many countries including the European Union and Japan.
Many consumers are unaware that over 70% of beef and chicken in the United States and Canada is treated with poisonous carbon monoxide gas and the FDA allows it, despite the known public health risks.
A bill was introduced in Congress that would require the labeling of meat that has been treated with carbon monoxide but it was never enacted and the topic was swept under the rug entirely. [Bill: H.R. 3115 (110th) introduced on July 19, 2007; never enacted.]
This practice makes meat appear and smell fresh even when contaminated with harmful bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E-coli 0157:H7.
Carbon monoxide makes meat appear fresher than it really is by reacting with the meat pigment myoglobin to create carboxymyoglobin. This bright red pigment masks the natural telltale signs of spoiled meat such as rank odors and slime. Meats containing carboxymyoglobin will appear red and fresh for days or even weeks beyond the point of spoiling.
Ironically, while it has allowed the used of carbon monoxide packaging, the FDA has also warned of the significant safety concern accompanying the use of reduced oxygen packaging (such as carbon monoxide packaging) stating that “the inhibition of the spoilage bacteria is significant because without these competing organisms, tell-tale signs signaling that the product is no longer fit for consumption will not occur.”
Cooking meat cannot eliminate the health problems that could occur when toxins are present, but not readily apparent, because of carbon monoxide. Even when contaminated meats are properly cooked, some toxins can survive.
The FDA’s acceptance of the GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) notifications for the use of carbon monoxide in fresh meat is illegal because it ignores existing Federal statutes and regulations. Precisely because of the potential for carbon monoxide to mask the appearance of spoilage and promote consumer deception, FDA regulations (Section 173.350) expressly prohibit the use of carbon monoxide in “fresh meat products.”
The FDA has evaluated the issue of carbon monoxide use in meat products on at least three separate occasions yet they claim carbon monoxide is still GRAS.
Regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also prohibit the introduction of ingredients in fresh meat that function to conceal damage or inferiority, or to give the appearance the product is better or of greater value.
Because of these safety concerns, many countries have banned the use of carbon monoxide in certain foods. The European Union prohibited the use of carbon monoxide in meat and tuna after the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food concluded: “The stable cherry-color can last beyond the microbial shelf life of the meat and thus mask spoilage.” Canada, Japan and Singapore have similarly banned the use of carbon monoxide in tuna.
In addition to the public health concern regarding foodborne illness, Prevent Disease reports:
Carbon monoxide (often referred to as CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, one measly oxygen molecule away from the carbon dioxide we all exhale. But that one molecule makes a big difference in that it does very, very bad things to the human body at very, very low concentrations.
CO is toxic because it sticks to hemoglobin, a molecule in blood that usually carries oxygen, even better than oxygen can.
When people are exposed to higher levels of CO, the gas takes the place of oxygen in the bloodstream and wreaks havoc. Milder exposures mean headaches, confusion, and tiredness. Higher exposures mean unconsciousness and death, and even those who survive CO poisoning can suffer serious long-term neurological consequences.
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