Fake Red Meat: Meatpackers Warn Consumers To "Use The Sell By Date"

As we’ve already mentioned, packing meat in carbon dioxide keeps it from turning brown, but doesn’t keep it from spoiling—making it more likely that consumers will buy, and eat, nasty spoiled meat.

A logical person might conclude that its not really a good idea to package the meat in such a way that your customer might become ill from eating it. Not so, it seems.

At a hearing Tuesday meatpackers said that consumers should rely on the “use by” date and not the color of meat to determine its freshness. They also suggested sniffing the meat to see if it is bad, and claimed that “consumers routinely rely on sell-by dates” and not color to determine freshness. (Although if they didn’t use color to determine freshness, one would assume that there would be no reason to spend extra money artificially dying meat to appear “fresher,” but we’re not supposed to think about that.)

One company, Cargill, said that it had decided to place warning labels on its carbon dioxide “dyed” meat:

Cargill Meat executive Scott Eilert said the processor, part of agribusiness giant Cargill Inc, based in Minneapolis, decided to add to its packages the words, “Color is not an indicator of freshness. Please refer to use or freeze by dates.”

“We believe this effectively addresses the concerns of the (House Energy and Commerce) Committee in protecting public health while not undermining the adoption of the safety and convenience offered through case-ready packaging,” said Eilert in written testimony.

All obvious safety issues aside, we picture a lot of happy customers buying almost spoiled, but perfectly red-looking meat, and being really pleased with it when they get home and it stinks like roadkill.

Good plan.

Meatpackers tell shoppers “use by” date is key [Reuters]


Edit Your Comment

  1. TMurphy says:

    Whoa. “Carbon monoxide ‘dyed’ meat”… Now THAT’s gotta be bad for you.

  2. CurbRunner says:

    On three occasions in the last two months, I’ve purchased chicken from my local Safeway store that turned out to smell terrible when I opened the packages.
    Each time the packages were 4-5 days short of the “use or freeze by” date on the package.
    It was only a ten minute ride from the store to my refrigerator for storing the meat. I’m not sure what’s going on there, but I’m not buying any more meat from Safeway.

  3. DojiStar says:

    Just don’t breathe it in and you’ll be OK.

  4. SOhp101 says:

    Only problem with CO treated meat is that it’s completely sealed so you won’t be able to smell the meat; you can’t depend on the color of the meat because it’s CO treated. The only factor is the sell by date, and that’s assuming the store properly handled the meat.

    Thanks, but I’ll choose another store/butcher.

  5. Sudonum says:

    I guess I’m lucky. I still have a small local grocery that actually has a butcher with the meat in the refrigerated case. My local Albertsons also still has an actual butcher, as does Stater Brothers when I visit family in CA, and Publix when I am staying at my place in FL. I avoid all pre-packaged meat like the plague(no pun intended).

  6. duffbeer703 says:

    You should just avoid all ground meat that isn’t packed at the store. This means that you never, ever buy ground meat from Wal-Mart, or anything that comes in tube or box.

    Whenever you buy shipped-in ground meat, you’re rolling the dice that one of the hundreds of animals ground up that day at the packing plant wasn’t contaminated.

    If you buy store-ground meat, it’s typically the trimmings from the steaks that the butcher’s cut. That means that it probably ground within the last 24 hours, wasn’t shipped in a groun form, and comes from 1 or 2 animals that have been handled by a trained butcher, not some illegal on a dissassembly line.

    Store ground meat is tastier, fresher and approximately the same price. If it’s available, buy it, and if its not find a different market.

  7. faust1200 says:

    “As we’ve already mentioned, packing meat in carbon dioxide keeps it from turning brown, but doesn’t keep it from spoiling-” Shouldn’t that be carbon monoxide and not dioxide??

  8. kimsama says:

    @faust1200: Good eyes!

  9. SOhp101 says:

    @kimsama: Too bad those eyes can’t tell the difference between spoiled and fresh CO treated meat.

  10. C2D says:

    Say it with me: Carbon MONOXIDE. NOT DIoxide. Get it right! Mono = singular, di = plural.

  11. amoeba says:

    @C2D: You are right, it is Carbon MONOXIDE, since it is used for “packing” and giving the meat “the red colour” or maintain the meat from the brown pigment. Unless Meg Marco drinks her Carbon DIOXIDE ground beef. In fact, the carbon DIOXIDE is found in soft drink and carbonated water, and other products which are not meats.

  12. amoeba says:

    @amoeba: …it is soft drinks. I have no idea why I get a bad spelling @ consumerist. I have to turn off the TV while typing.

  13. Cheap sushi places do the CO thing with tuna to keep it pink.

    If your tuna is the same color as the strawberry shortcake doll you got for Christmas 20 years ago, it’s been treated with carbon monoxide.

  14. rdldr1 says:

    CO2 dyed meat? I wonder how science made CO2 gas into a shelf stable liquid form so they can dye packaged meat.

  15. 8abhive says:

    Fuck Scott Eilert. Oh wait, he got us first.

    How exactly does this not misrepresent the product? It’s like some easy-rinse non-toxic spraypaint. Isn’t fraud still illegal?

    We’ve seen way too many cases of stores relabeling old meat for this to be a good idea.

  16. SOhp101 says:

    @rdldr1: CO or CO2 does not need to be in liquid form to bind itself to hemoglobin. The molecule is designed to bind to carbon dioxide and oxygen, giving its respective purplish/brownish or bright red color.

    CO binds with hemoglobin much better than oxygen or carbon dioxide can (which makes carbon monoxide poisoning so dangerous). Meat/blood that has been exposed to CO looks like regular ‘fresh’ meat.

  17. Parapraxis says:

    SOHP101 is correct. The heme group in Hemoglobin’s alpha and beta subunits change conformation in response to binding. Carbon monoxide binds to that the central Iron molecule in heme so tightly that it remains in the “bound” state, unable to exchange it for oxygen or carbon dioxide.

    As the meat goes bad naturally, the hemoglobin breaks down, and the color turns brown as the iron oxidizes. Carbon Monoxide blocks this natural color change, making (possibly) spoiled meat appear fresh.

    In short: Bright red= bound state, Scarlet/Purple= unbound state.

  18. alice_bunnie says:


    I never buy my meat at Walmart or Target anyway. If you ever read the label you’ll find a nice disclaimer “Enhanced with up to 12% solution”. No thanks, I really don’t care to pay for extra water in my meat. :/ This truly bugs the crap out of me.

    And, lately I haven’t bought any ground beef from Kroger because I haven’t gotten a good reply what “with natural flavors” exactly means.

  19. twstinkers says:

    Also, it is a common practice for some meat departments to change the sell-by dates or reduce prices for quick sale of not fresh or even putrid meat. There was an expose on the news here in NYC a few years ago about slimy meat departments that just replace the plastic wrap on the meat with a new sell-by date. Nasty…

  20. lemur says:

    Yet another good reason to stay away from meat.

  21. rptrcub says:

    I have found a local, honest-to-goodness butcher who can tell you where the beef he sells came from.

  22. mopar_man says:


    Yeah. All meat is terrible and will kill you. Moron.


    This is what I’ve done for a long time.

  23. jeff303 says:

    @lemur: If you mean “overprocessed, unhealthy, supermarket meat” then I totally agree with you.

  24. Froggmann says:

    You know sniffing meat is fine and dandy, but what about those of us that don’t have a fully working sense of smell? I would go to a local butcher if I knew of one around here but, they seem to be extinct.

  25. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @lemur: Yep all those thousands of generations of eating meat has totally pushed us to near-extintion. Give it a rest, isn’t there a carrot somewhere screaming as it is plucked out of the ground you can go save?

    Yeah I am really choosy on where I buy my meat, big chain groceries have always turned me off. I prefer a local butcher who while he might not know my name at least knows me as a repeat cutomer.

    Suprisingly Vallarta a primarily Hispanic marketed grocery has the best bakery and meat dept. I have been to from a chain. Maybe cause they are still small, not sure if they are outside of Socal. I just gotta explain what I want a few times sometimes.

  26. MrEvil says:

    United Supermarkets is the big chain in my neck of the woods. I’ve never had bad meat from them. They don’t church their meat up with CO either. All the meat is hand packed in the shallow styrofoam trays that are about as vapor tight as fishnet stockings. They also keep the old school meatcase where the guy wraps it up in paper for you.

  27. rawsteak says:

    man, now i can suffocate by eating meat? sonofa…