By Lacy J. Hansen for DietsInReview.com
Have you ever heard of atmospheric packaging before? Youíre not alone. Apparently those crafty words refer to the modified packaging the meat industry has invested in. The packaging utilizes carbon monoxide gas to extend the shelf life of meat and cause it to stay fresh looking.
Itís speculated that more than 70 percent of all beef and chicken in the United States and Canada are being treated with carbon monoxide gas. This is done due to the high task of keeping meat stored at just the right temperature, especially while in the coolers in the grocery stores. The internal temperature of meat is to remain at four degrees Fahrenheit. Just a few degrees above and bacteria can begin to grow. While in the grocery store, the surface temperature of meat can get much higher than the thermometer reading in the display case due to UV radiation from display lights. The lights can penetrate the packaging and heat up the surface similar to how one can get a sunburn on a cold sunny day.
Due to the struggles with temperature consistency, atmospheric packaging was developed. When meat is exposed to carbon monoxide it will react with the myoglobin and give the meat a bright red color. Fresh beef is naturally red and as it ages it becomes brown. The carbon monoxide keeps it looking fresh and artificially limits the growth of bacteria that can commonly grow in the increased heat of display cases.
Carbon monoxide can be fatal if a large amount is inhaled. The gas is toxic because it attaches to hemoglobin and replaces oxygen in the bloodstream, causing major chaos in the body. Minor exposure can lead to headaches, confusion, and tiredness. Higher exposure can cause unconsciousness and death. Most who survive carbon monoxide poisoning often suffer from neurological consequences. However, the meat industries say that carbon monoxide is not harmful when it is ingested through atmospheric packaging.
The meat industry is not having a good year. Mechanically separated chicken, pink slime, and now atmospheric packaging? Sounds like itís a good season to be a local and honest butcher; hopefully there are some of those still out there.