How About Some Carbon Monoxide in Your Meat?

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On top of all the other troubling ingredients, chemicals and known toxins found in foods and/or used in its production and cultivation, there is apparently also carbon monoxide to be concerned about.

Yes, the silent but deadly gas carbon monoxide.

Apparently the FDA – our loving watchdogs – have ok’d its use as a color preservative in meats, as it evidently 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 (are there competing interests here?) have challenged the use of carbon monoxide as a food preservative, 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.’

“The gas not only keeps meat red while on the shelf but after it’s spoiled.”

Carbon Monoxide… Yummy! (Cue to 3:26 and see meat color comparison)

When breathed in, carbon monoxide can – infamously – cause acute and immediate death. However, breathing less than deadly levels can also cause or are associated with many severe chronic health affects, particularly on the brain and neurological system.

“Up to forty percent of those poisoned can suffer problems that range from amnesia, headaches and memory loss to personality and behavioural changes, loss of muscle and bladder control and impairment of co-ordination and vision.”

So are there any ill effects from ingesting carbon monoxide in small quantities over long periods of time?

At least one scientific study claimed it was highly unlikely to cause toxic effects in human health, instead praising the “cherry red color” it gave to meat:

ABSTRACT: Retail meat can be packaged in gas mixtures containing 60–70% carbon dioxide (CO2), 30–40% nitrogen (N2) and <0.5% carbon monoxide (CO). This gas mixture with CO provides a unique combination of a long microbiological shelf life and a stable, cherry red colour of the meat. The shelf life of meat packaged in the CO mixture is longer than that of meat packaged in the commonly used atmospheres with high oxygen (O2), that is, approximately 70% O2 and 30% CO2. The consumption of meat that has been packaged in a CO mixture will result in only negligible levels of carboxyhaemoglobin in the blood. It is highly improbable that the use of CO in the packaging of meat will present a toxic threat to consumers.

Not completely sure over here what the long-term effects might be, but one claim that any harm is “highly improbable” is hardly enough to keep people from being just a little freaked out that this is one known toxin being added to the food supply.

Have there been any long term studies, or was just this another gross G.R.A.S. assumption (Yes, there is one for carbon monoxide in food) that the public is fine with being treated as a waste disposal bin?

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