Technorati Tags: Packaging, Fraud, Meat, Regulation
Which Cut Is Older? (It's a Trick Question)
by Marian Burros for the New York Times, February 21, 2006
If some of the meat in supermarkets is looking rosier than it used to, the reason is that a growing number of markets are selling it in airtight packages treated with a touch of carbon monoxide to help the product stay red for weeks. [The steaks in the picture were both red when bought on Feb. 3. Kept refrigerated, they were then photographed on Feb. 16.]
This form of "modified atmosphere packaging," a technique in which other gases replace oxygen, has become more widely used as supermarkets eliminate their butchers and buy precut, "case-ready" meat from processing plants.
The carbon monoxide is itself harmless at the levels being used in the treated packaging. But opponents say that the process, which is also used to keep tuna rosy, allows stores to sell meat that is no longer fresh, and that consumers would not know until they opened the package at home and smelled it. Labels do not note whether meat has been laced with carbon monoxide. ... the bright red color could mask spoilage and dangerous bacteria in older meat or meat that has not been kept at the proper temperature.
"This is what is going to happen in the meat business," said John A. Catsimatidis, chairman and chief executive of Gristede's. "The meat looks great. It looks as red as the day it was cut."
Processors say treated ground meat can be sold for 28 days after leaving the plant, and solid cuts for 35 days. The agribusiness company Cargill says it has sold 100 million packages in the last year.
Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has asked the F.D.A. to explain its approval of the process.