In hearings today, the meat producers Hormel Foods Corp and Cargill Inc testified that the practice of treating meat with carbon monoxide to preserve its red color is safe and should be allowed. As a compromise, they suggested a label on all CO-treated meat and fish that reminded consumers to refer to the date on the package to determine its freshness. According to Reuters, “officials at the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Agriculture Department said they stand by the safety of the carbon monoxide practice and would revisit the process if new data becomes available.”
The consumer groups who originally called for a ban on the practice are not pleased:
“We’re outraged the FDA put the economic interest of the industry before the health and safety of consumers,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Food and Water Watch. “At worst (it’s) dangerous, at best it’s a consumer rip-off.”
Giant, Safeway Inc and Tyson no longer use CO to treat meat and fish. Target has continued the practice, but today they “asked USDA for approval to add a warning to the label of meat that has been treated with carbon monoxide sold in its stores.” We’re not sure about the contents of the label, but its likely to be similar to the “Use by this date” warning suggested by Hormel and Cargill.
Bottom line: unless you know for sure your store doesn’t use carbon monoxide on its meat, don’t equate color with freshness, because the practice isn’t going away any time soon.
“Food industry defends carbon monoxide use in meat” [Reuters]