Some Carbon Monoxide With Your Meat?

By Lacy J. Hansen for

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.

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Dale Overall

Buy organic, free range, forget factory farms and there is no problem. Buy veggies that are organic and not slathered in pesticides. No problem. I am not going to stop eating meat because I am an omnivore and prefer organic sources.

KS Goh
KS G6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Emily Drew
Emily Drew6 years ago

This is why I stick to my local organic faarms :)

Deirdre B.
Deirdre Boyne6 years ago


heather g.
heather g6 years ago

Thank you - that's good to know, even though I never touch meat.

Carmen S.
Carmen S6 years ago

thanks for sharing this

Reenie R.
Reenie R6 years ago

It's not just meat. Read Tomatoland...a recent book about tomato growing. Conventional (nonorganic) tomatoes are picked green, gassed, and sent to market. Yuck.

Lauryn Slotnick
Lauryn S6 years ago

I've read about this quite a while ago. However, as far as I know, only meat that is not touching the plastic, and has space between the meat and the plastic wrapper, can have carbon monoxide in the packaging. The article does not mention this, so I don't see how 70% can be treated, since certainly 70% of meat is not in this type of packaging; is some meat treated with it, but then not stored in "atmospheric packaging?"

I agree that I don't know of any harmful effects of CO when ingested, because the reason it can be fatal when inhaled in high quantities is because it replaces oxygen, and the body does not get the oxygen it needs, which is not a concern when ingesting. What I've read in the past is the issue that meat which has actually spoiled may look artificially fresh (though I believe it would still smell bad).

Also, we need supermarkets to stop using styrofoam packaging altogether!

john c.
john c6 years ago

To clarify the confusion some people keep barking back to the article about: The article is quoting the meat industries standards NOT an editorial opinion! . For one state it is the following:
Frozen meat must be kept below 10 degrees F (here, 4F).;
unfrozen meat must be kept below 40 F.
Bacteria can most definitely be grown at below 40 F. Hence the requirement.

john c.
john c6 years ago

Oxygen and hemoglobin have an affinity together important for life processes. Carbon Monoxide takes the place of Oxygen in the blood killing the Oxygen and blood affinity necessary for life's processes. It takes a lot of energy to create CO carbon monoxide and it doesnt change back to CO2 even in the body hence the suffocating thing when running the car in the garage. In fact the carbon monoxide remains present in the meat. How do you think it reacts after ingestion??? It appears some people believe it is harmless ("in "low" dosage") and it magically disappears and becomes good(pun intended) inside the body.
This is a very well written article that if scientifically eleborated, only scrapes the surface of the harmfulness of the processes it mentions. One more notion is the one about the redness of meat. It is interesting how red meat eaters that like rare done meat like to "keep it red" thinking it is "bloody" isn't it??? Do you think that this is red due to red blood cells??