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February 12, 2008

SafeFood© Blog – Just the Facts, Please.

I have never taken a journalism course, and other than a short seminar on media training, I really don’t understand how the whole thing works behind the scenes. What I do know is based on what I see on TV and hear on radio and read in print.

Is foodborne illness newsworthy? Yes, I think so. It raises awareness among the public about risks and identifies need for change for some practices (these are personal, operational and oversight levels of change). What I find troubling is use of conjecture – the recent use by several media outlets in showing a video supplied by the Humane Society of the U. S (HSUS). This video was taken at ONE meat processing facility by someone “undercover”. Yes, what was shown on the video was troubling. Downed animals were prodded and cruelly forced to walk in order to meet regulations for entry into food supply. However, this was ONE instance – and I have to ask - if animal welfare was truly the driving force behind showing this video, why did it take 4 months to get the word out? This is the digital age with instantaneous communication.

The other issue I took was the reporting on this video – words of “may” and “might” and “possibly” were used to describe that the meat may end up in the food supply, even, the Child Nutrition Program (emotional tug here). What wasn’t described was the rigorous inspection process: animals are inspected before, during and after harvesting. There is VERY little chance an injured animal could be forced to meet this gauntlet of inspections. Was the entire story told? In my opinion, No. Do groups such as HSUS have agendas beyond animal welfare? In my opinion, Yes.

Be a critical thinker – before jumping on the bandwagon of “protecting animals” think about what groups such as this are all about. Livestock producers I know (and I do know a few, including my husband) care very deeply about their animals – they are their livelihood and passion. Animals often get cared for before the humans. In winter storms, producers worry about water and feed supplies. In hot summers, they worry about water supply and heat effects. During calving season, producers are on 24/7 watch, operating on just a few hours of sleep each night. Livestock producers are caretakers of their animals – they take care and are good stewards.

Let’s stick to just the facts in the news, please.

Submitted by Catherine Strohbehn, PhD, RD, CFSP February 12, 2008

February 08, 2008

Carbon Monoxide Offers Improved Food Safety

Carbon monoxide as a packaging gas for fresh meat has stimulated a great deal of recent controversy. Critics have claimed that carbon monoxide packaging is an unsafe practice and is deceptive to consumers but, in reality, carbon monoxide provides a means to significantly improve product safety. Carbon monoxide was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002 as a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) substance for fresh meat packaging. Yes, that's correct; carbon monoxide is considered GRAS...under the intended conditions of use. The latter phase is a typical qualification for GRAS substances. In fresh meat packaging, carbon monoxide is used at 0.4% of the package gases and represents absolutely no hazard at that concentration. What carbon monoxide contributes to meat is greatly improved color stability. A bright red color with carbon monoxide will last for 28-35 days in refrigerated storage instead of 5-14 days in other packaging systems. Critics have claimed that this is too long, possibly permitting spoilage while color still looks fresh. However, packages with carbon monoxide are labeled with "use by" and "freeze by" dates to provide consumers with a guide for avoiding spoilage.

What most people have missed in the arguements about carbon monoxide is that the improved color stability opens the door to antimicrobial treatments that will inhibit spoilage and pathogenic bacteria. There are two good examples. First, carbon dioxide gas is a good antimicrobial agent but at elevated concentration in meat packaging, will cause discoloration. When combined with carbon monoxide, no discoloration occurs. Research with fresh pork sausage has demonstrated that a high carbon dioxide concentration will prevent spoilage for about 21 days compared to about 6 days in conventional packaging. The second example where carbon monoxide permits better microbial control while retaining good color is with irradiated ground beef. Irradiated ground beef can be guaranteed to be free of pathogenic Escherichia coli O157:H7 and other pathogens, but irradiation also results in unattractive color darkening. With carbon monoxide, however, irradiated ground beef retains excellent color, is free of E. coli O157:H7 and has a 38-day shelf life instead of 3-7 days.

What's not to like about that?