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Decayed Meat Treated With Carbon Monoxide To Make It Look Fresh At The Grocery
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.
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.
The Canadian Meat Packers Council recommends that the internal meat temperatures not go above 39 degrees Celsius or 4 degrees Fahrenheit. That has also been defined by other international meat regulators as the optimum storage temperature of meat. Even small increases of one or two degrees can cause a huge increase in bacterial growth. For example, an increase in the temperature of -1.5 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius would cut the shelf life of meat in half.
However, keeping meat at these temperatures is very challenging for grocery retailers. The actual surface temperature of displayed fresh meat is often much higher than the thermometer of the display case due to UV radiation from the display case lighting which penetrates the meat packaging and heats the surface just as the sun can cause a sunburn on a cold winter day. Various studies have found that the internal temperature of meat from display cases does exceed 50 degrees Celsius which is more than 10 degrees higher than recommended temperatures.
The meat consequently decomposes very quickly, so the meat industry heavily invested in modified atmospheric packaging which utilizes carbon monoxide gas to extend the shelf life and resist spoilage.
In a carbon monoxide system, with low oxygen, the carbon monoxide will react with the myoglobin and give the meat a bright red colour. The low oxygen mixture artificially limits the growth of spoilage organisms that are commonly caused by increased levels of heat in display cases.
So although carbon monoxide is a gas that can be fatal when inhaled in large quantities, the meat industry insists that it is not harmful to human health when ingested via atmospheric packaging...
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