How harmful is the Packaged Meat


Maneka Gandhi


(Bihar Times) When people go looking for meat, they usually look at the colour and the smell. If the colour is red and it doesn’t smell, they think that the meat is wholesome, fresh and of good quality. This is not true.

What is packaged meat ? meat that is in cellophane or any other wrapping, Sausages , ham , bacon, hamburgers, mince, frankfurters, smoked meat, heat-and-eat items such as precooked roast, cold cuts and meat containing sandwiches. This includes chicken and fish.

After the animal is killed in the slaughterhouse, the packaged meat that reaches your table is often days old because it has been processed, distributed and stored, and all this takes a long time. It undergoes deterioration from chemical and microbiological processes and the bacteria that enters all dead flesh .
But , on the shelf, it still looks red and doesn’t smell. How much is nature and how much art ? All of it is manmade , made possible by use of chemical and gas additives used for preserving the “appearance” of the meat – if not its actual composition. The additives make the meat look as if the animal was killed yesterday when in fact it is full of ecoli, salmonella and other bacteria that comes into decomposing flesh,
The following are some of the major additives:
1) Carbon Monoxide: One of the ways in which the red ,fresh look of meat is obtained is by infusing carbon monoxide into the meat before packaging it. The use of carbon monoxide to keep packaged meat looking fresh is forbidden in Europe due to food safety concerns . Carbon monoxide makes meat appear fresher than it actually is by reacting with the meat pigment myoglobin to create carboxymyoglobin, a bright red pigment that masks the natural aging and spoilage of meats. Meats containing carboxymyoglobin will continue to appear pink or reddish well beyond the point at which they begin to spoil. The presence of carbon monoxide also suppresses bad odors and the presence of slime, other telltale signs that meat is spoiled.

Packaged meat does not have this on the label as meat companies are strongly opposed to labeling that any process has been used which consumers associated with the smelly and dangerous exhaust system of their cars.

2) Nitrities and Nitrates: Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are used in the curing process of different meats. The purpose is to inhibit the growth of food poisoning micro organisms like clostridium botulinum.  These preservatives also give cured meat its fresh pink color. However , when cooked at high temperatures they combine with the amino acids in the meat to form nitrosamines which are carcinogenic.

In order to reduce their carcinogenic activity and slow the conversion , more chemicals are added -  ascorbate and  erythorbate. But in all meat products exposed to high heat, nitrites are formed very quickly ( frankfurters, hot dogs, bacon, sausages). Attempts to reduce nitrite levels in meat by adding potassium sorbate for instance have not found favour with the industry as this chemical changes the flavour of the meat.
Another chemical that is being used as a preservative  is  35 ppm encapsulated dinitrosyl ferrohemochrome as a colouring agent and 3000 ppm sodium hypophosphate as an antimicrobial agent .

3) Phosphates: Different types of phosphate are used by the industry. The most common is tripolyphosphate which acts as a detergent and has been allowed as a dip since 1992, for removing bacteria from chicken meat that is sold with its skin on.

4) AntiOxidants: Food decays when it is exposed to oxygen. Fatty acids in oils and lipids such as those found in flesh are especially susceptible to oxidation and will take on a rancid flavor and odour. Chemicals known as antioxidants hinder the chemical reaction in fats and oils between oxygen and other chemicals, slowing the aging process.  Some natural antioxidants and processes are:  salt, sugar, vinegar, freezing, smoking, pickling, citric and ascorbic acid. But none of these are used in meat as they change the flavour and texture. So to enhance the colour in processed meats, chemical  antioxidants are used such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). Propyl Gallate is also used to prevent rancidity. BHT and Propyl Gallate have been found to be carcinogenic.
5) Among the newest meat additives are the following:
·         A blend of citric acid and sorbic acid for "soaker pads:" to reduce the bacteria microbial load in packages of meat and poultry.
·         Lauramide arginine ethyl ester: Approved as an antimicrobial agent for use on ready-to-eat ground meat products, such as sausages.
·         Trisodium phosphate: Approved as a component of phosphate blends, and used to decrease the amount of juices in meat products.

When you eat any kind of packaged or tinned meat , you get all these chemicals for free ! The governments and meat industry may claim that the food additives are safe, but they said that the color additive Violet No. 1 used on beef was safe and this had to be withdrawn because it was found to be a cancer causer. Many additives have been approved and withdrawn over the years.
As a meat buyer, you are the victim of the ultimate consumer deception by the meat industry. Cooking meat cannot eliminate the health problems that occur when toxins are present, but not readily apparent, because of carbon monoxide. Even when contaminated meats are properly cooked, some toxins can survive. And meats are not always thoroughly cooked. No meat mentions that it has a chemical colour additive that hides the natural discoloration associated with spoilage. So every bite you take becomes a Russian Roulette bullet.

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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