Masking the Truth About Meat?
The barbecue is Sunday, and as you stroll down the grocery store aisles, there‚ only one thing on your mind: meat. Not just any meat, though. Tender, juicy ground beef, just waiting for a grill and a bun.Sitting there in its case, it looks perfect; the kind of fresh, healthy red that promises a mouthwatering hamburger and a full belly. Two days later, when you and three of your best friends are suffering from painful abdominal cramps and diarrhea — the symptoms of Clostridium perfringens poisoning — you wonder to yourself ‚How did this happen? The meat looked so good!”
But in today‚ world, seeing is not believing — at least not when it comes to meat. Because of an ill,thought decision by our Food and Drug Administration, the meat industry was allowed to inject the toxic gas carbon monoxide into your ground beef‚ packaging. The gas kept the meat red and fresh looking long after it had already spoiled, and when you ate it (past its sell,by date; you looked at that, didnt you?) you also consumed the bacterial condoplex that had sprung up in the interim.
There was no way for you to know that your meat had been cased in an atmosphere different from normal air, because companies are not required to let consumers know about things like that. Then again, there should be no problem with that, right? Amazingly enough, FDA thinks not.
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.
A natural byproduct of the Earth‚ volcanic eruptions, humans also add to CO‚ presence in the atmosphere through driving, manufacturing, and the incomplete combustion that takes place in furnaces. The gas is all around us, albeit typically at levels that cause little trouble (usually around 0.1 parts per million in the open air). However, when that count goes up, the problems start — hence the need for CO detectors in our homes.
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.1
So why would anyone ever want to package food with this stuff? The answer is simple, clever, and potentially dangerous: it keeps meat redder, longer. Today, food usually does quite a bit of traveling
before it hits the table, and producers, processors, and grocers have to maintain a delicate balancing act to ensure it stays — and looks — fresh. The meat industry alone is estimated to lose around $1 billion every year to meat that has started to look unappetizing.2
So industry scientists, pressed to find new and more effective ways of maintaining food‚ appearance for longer and longer stretches, decided to exploit CO‚ very toxicity to squeeze in a few more days of red.