A Guide to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Guide to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (CO Poisoning)

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Carbon Monoxide Food Poisoning – what you need to know

When you are at the grocery store to pick up that perfect piece of meat for the barbeque you will most likely choose the reddest and leanest cut. What you may not know is this: that red meat may have been altered for packaging and freshness appeal by using a form of carbon monoxide that helps hide spoilage.

How is carbon monoxide used in packaging meats?
The FDA approved the use of carbon monoxide for modified atmosphere packaging systems in the U.S. in 2004. This particular process replaces the oxygen in the meat package with carbon monoxide in order to extend the product’s shelf life from the normal 5 days to a dramatically increased 15 days. Low oxygen levels reduce spoilage.

Carbon Monoxide Food PoisoningFor consumer appeal, the carbon monoxide is combined with myoglobin, a globular protein of 153 amino acids, to form carboxymyoglobin. This bright cherry red pigment is injected into most red meats, including pork. Not only does it enhance the meat’s color and freshness, but it also masks any discoloration from spoilage.

So where does that leave you, the consumer? Well, in the dark basically, as the FDA does not require that food processors indicate on the label their use of carbon monoxide in the product.

How can food poisoning be a factor?
Without the certainty of knowing how long the meat has been in circulation, carbon monoxide food poisoning becomes a potential health risk. In a petition to the FDA, Kalsec, a Michigan based food company stated, “The use of carbon monoxide deceives consumers and creates an unnecessary risk of food poisoning by enabling meat and ground beef to remain fresh-looking beyond the point at which typical color changes would indicate ageing or bacterial spoilage.”

Many countries such as Japan, Singapore, and the whole of the European Union have banned this particular packaging process as the risk of carbon monoxide food poisoning poses too great a threat. In 2010 a similar ban in Canada was lifted slightly, allowing certain MAP (modified atmosphere packaging) to use up to 0.4% CO. In extreme cases the ingestion of the bacteria in spoiled food can be fatal for certain individuals. If this process is here to stay in North America consumers should be made aware of which meats have undergone this method of packaging.

Types of carbon monoxide food poisoning
Carbon monoxide food poisoning is a health hazard not to be taken lightly. Below is a list of the most common bacterium and viral ailments that can be contracted through the ingestion of spoiled foods and meats:

  • Viruses: norwalk, rotavirus, hepatitis A
  • Bacteria: salmonellae, campylobacter, staphylococcus aureus, bacillus cereus, e-coli, traveler’s diarrhea, botulism, vibrio cholerae
  • Parasites: beaver fever, cryptosporidium

While negligent food handling, storage, and incorrect cooking procedures remain significant contributing causes of food poisoning, the fact that carbon monoxide is used in delaying the aged appearance of meat most probably changes how consumers handle it upon arriving home from the grocery store. Because the meat looks fresh, a person might choose not to freeze it, and opt to keep it in the fridge for a couple of days before cooking it. However, if the meat had already begun to spoil, and continues to spoil on the shelf in the fridge, it could become the cause of carbon monoxide food poisoning in your home.


About the Author: Lily Armstrong is a freelance writer and is the head researcher and content manager for http://www.carbon-monoxide-poisoning.com/.



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