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  • Writer's pictureBuckeye Valley Beef Co.

Carbon monoxide and your grocery store beef: a tragedy worth talking about.

I'll start this post with a picture. Posted at right is a message that a new customer of ours had sent me not long after our co-op was founded. He was a curious customer and interested in knowing more about what the "big difference" was between store meat and buying directly from a farmer.

When you first look at the picture, the steak at right doesn't look as appetizing as the steak on the left. You might be surprised when I tell you that the one on the right came straight from the freezer on one our Buckeye Valley farms. The other (left side) steak came from a local grocery store.

Both steaks had been taken out of their packaging and left on the counter to sit for about 3 hours before he was ready to prepare his meal.

So you're probably wondering why our steak turned brown, while the grocery meat is still red? It's called oxidation, and it's what happens when hemoglobin (the red juice in raw meat) is introduced to oxygen. It's a natural process and it's what is supposed to happen to raw meat. Just like when your blood dries, what color does it turn? Brown.

Notice the grocery meat? It's still bright red. Why? It's called carbon monoxide. It's used as a preservative in grocery meats in order to prolong the shelf life. "In 2004, the FDA approved the use of modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), which uses a variety of gases to help preserve meat and, in the case of carbon monoxide, keep the meat looking fresh" ("Carbon Monoxide as a Meat Preservative;"

My personal opinion? Gross. To think that when you buy meat at a grocery that purchases boxed beef, it's been packaged in synthetic gases to prolong the look that it's fresh. I was as mad as a wet hen when I learned this - because I've bought pork and chicken from the grocery in years prior to feed my family - and you can bet they're using similar tactics. Another tragedy: the FDA doesn't require them to label the meat as such. I guess even they're smart enough to figure out that if you go labeling beef "gassed with carbon monoxide to preserve freshness," it may cause a bit of an uproar from consumers.

So to summarize, that bright red beef in the grocery case wouldn't be that color without the use of modified atmosphere packaging. Not to mention, that there's no way to tell how old the cut is - because of the preservative. Which probably explains why our customers always say that our beef TASTES so much better than what they've bought in the grocery store. It's because when the finished steer (young boy cow fat enough for market) went to be harvested, it traveled from our farm to the family-owned processor that does nothing but cut and package the beef using a vacuum-sealer. Then it is flash frozen to preserve its freshness and flavor. Yea, we use temperature to preserve our beef, not a chemical. You can't buy meat any more fresh than from the farm.

If you're looking for an untainted product that is completely natural without the use of chemical additives, buy local. Buy your beef local, your chicken local, your pork local. You will distinctly notice a difference in the color, the flavor, the taste - not to mention you'll feel better about what you're putting on your family's plates. Taste the local difference!

More information can be found here:


Suggested local sources for Chicken & Pork: Dana Stacy, farmer owner

Nethero Farm's Pork, Eric & Lori Nethero, 513-260-2248

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