Kalsec has waged a two-year fight and spent $800,000 to battle food regulators and meat producers over a fledgling practice of packaging fresh meat with a harmless dose of carbon monoxide.
The gas keeps meat an appealing red for more than 20 days — about twice as long as other popular packaging and far longer than the few days unwrapped meat stays red in a butcher's case.
The red color is the problem, say Kalsec, consumer groups and several lawmakers. The gas not only keeps meat red while on the shelf but after it's spoiled.
They say consumers — who consider color when picking meat — will be fooled into buying spoiled or old meat and not smell trouble until they open the package at home.
The packaging presents "serious consumer deception and food-safety risks," Kalsec says in a filing to the Food and Drug Administration. It wants the practice banned.
The meat industry disputes Kalsec's claims and says it is running a "baseless" scare campaign because carbon monoxide packaging would obliterate a rival Kalsec product.
A family-run firm with 300 employees, Kalsec sells natural colorings, spices and herbs. One of its products is a rosemary extract that meat processors use in packaging that keeps meat a nice red for about half as long as the carbon monoxide-infused packaging.
The meat industry says shoppers are tipped off to bad meat by bulging packages in stores and expired use-or-freeze-by dates. By keeping meat fresh-looking longer, the industry hopes to save millions of dollars a year by selling meat that consumers would have shunned before because of poor color.In what foodmakers call "modified atmosphere packaging," a combination of gases — nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide — battle the aging effects that regular air has on foods. Leafy-green companies and potato-chipmakers use MAP, but they don't use carbon monoxide. Kalsec's rosemary extract is used by meat producers in a non-carbon-monoxide MAP format.
The chair of the House's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee has co-authored a bill that would require a safety notice on meat, seafood and poultry using carbon monoxide packaging.
He says committee investigators recently found healthy-looking imported fish packaged with carbon monoxide to be decomposed. The proposed notice would warn consumers to "discard any product with an unpleasant odor, slime, or a bulging package."
The FDA has so far allowed carbon monoxide packaging for beef, pork and raw tuna when used as an ingredient in tasteless smoke, used as a preservative.
Other regulators have been tougher. The European Union doesn't allow it for meat and tuna. Canada bans it in fish; Singapore does for fresh tuna.
Courtesy of USA Today