A Surprising Source of Carbon Monoxide

Last month, I told you about the dangers of low-level carbon monoxide poisoning. I showed you how low levels of this poisonous gas can cause a wide array of chronic illnesses. Most people are aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide and where the gas usually comes from. But this month, Ive got a shocking source that you have never considered before. And you likely eat it every day.

That is right, a very common food can be a minor source of carbon monoxide. But that is not even the biggest problem. Let me explain.

Surprisingly, this is one time that big corporations did not mislead the government about safety. The companies, Cargill and Hormel foods, conducted tests for one specific purpose. They wanted to convince federal regulators to allow them to treat meat with carbon monoxide without going through a public approval process.

You must be wondering why anyone would want to treat meat with a poisonous gas. It sure caught my attention. When carbon monoxide gets into your body, it causes oxygen starvation. It displaces oxygen from your hemoglobin and binds the hemoglobin tightly. The combination is vividly red, even in the total absence of oxygen. You know that arterial (oxygenated) blood is bright red, and venous blood is bluer (lack of oxygen). Carbon monoxide blood, devoid of oxygen, is paradoxically bright red. Its victims die of oxygen starvation with bright red blood! Its this property that the meat companies want to exploit.

Meat companies are concerned about your preferences for the color of the meat you buy. As meat ages, its color dulls. It loses its appeal. So what do the companies want to do? Gas it! Yes, by gassing it with carbon monoxide, the red color will lock in indefinitely. The carbon monoxide binds to globin pigments in meat. You get fooled into thinking you are getting the freshest cut. Industry officials have complained that they lose $1 billion in sales each year by people like you shunning still edible meat that just looks unappetizing. Its a gimmick to make old meat look good to you.

There are a couple of problems with this. One, no exposure to carbon monoxide is good. Its not likely the carbon monoxide in the meat will cause you any problems. But theres no reason to have any extra exposure to this gas.

The bigger problem is that it compromises your ability to spot meat spoilage. Heres where the experiments went crazy. When the companies treated meat with carbon monoxide they deliberately under-refrigerated the meat. They expected the meat to grow bacteria as it spoiled. The meat did show markers of spoilage. But inexplicably, bacterial counts on the meat went down over time, instead of increasing. The companies openly admitted that their tests could be faulty.

But your USDA did not question these questionable results. To the contrary, when it reviewed the strange data, they used it to reverse their previous opposition to gassing meat for color enhancement.

So, if you eat meat, just know that the packager may have treated it with carbon monoxide. That means the cheery looking red meat you are purchasing might already be spoiled, microbes or not. You might be eating old meat colored bright with carbon monoxide. Unlike fish, its harder to detect older meat with your nose. Now you wont be able to detect it with your eyes either.

Please limit your meat purchases to outlets that you know carry only organic grass-fed beef from animals that have been humanely raised and killed. I assure you that meat from these animals will be healthier for you than meat from the acknowledged horrid commercial meat producing industry in this country. If you do not know if your meat contains carbon monoxide, ask your butcher. He should know. If he does not, buy it from someone else.

Ref: Rick Weiss, Washington Post.