Should Artificially Colored Meat Have A Warning Label?

Over a year and a half ago, we alerted readers to the sneaky practice of using carbon monoxide to indefinitely preserve raw meat’s red color—several stores admitted to the practice, and while the small amount of gas used does not pose a health risk, the perma-red meat can make it harder to detect spoilage. Now, in the wake of so many food and product safety scandals, the government has proposed a new mandatory warning label as part of the Food and Drug Import Safety Act of 2007. It would read:

Carbon monoxide has been used to preserve the color of this product. Do not rely on color or the ‘use or freeze by’ date alone to judge the freshness or safety of the product. Discard any product with an unpleasant odor, slime, or a bulging package.

Unfortunately, a past movement to end the practice was scuttled by the meat industry, according to an editorial in USA Today:

In April 2004, the Department of Agriculture declared that this sort of packaging “could potentially mislead consumers into believing they are purchasing a product that is fresher or of greater value than it actually is and may increase the potential for masking spoilage.” But the industry fought back, and little more than a month later, the USDA reversed itself, citing industry data and declaring that such packing “will not mislead consumers.”

According to the editorial, Safeway has stopped selling meat that’s been treated in this manner, and Target is now the only national chain that still sells CO-packaged meat. However, there is no available industry data on which regional chains carry it, but “the industry says it’s widely available nationally.”

(Thanks, Fred!)

“Our view on food safety: When you buy red meat, looks can be deceiving” [USA Today]

Summary of bill, with label warning on page 5 (pdf document)
(Photo: Getty)