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CO and Meat Packaging

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Processing Technology
Calibrating carbon monoxide content in modified atmosphere packaging

By Pete Hisey on 2/1/2006

In this article:
Include related activities in your HACCP plan
Buy pre-mixed formulations
Maintain your mixers
Keep it cool
Flush properly
It's best to test

Carbon monoxide is a useful tool to sustain an attractive bloom, but keeping your gas mix at accepted levels requires constant calibration.
While the Food and Drug Administration has granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status for the use of carbon monoxide in MAP packaging of case-ready beef, the amounts it has authorized are very precise: No more than 0.4 percent of an atmosphere can consist of CO, meaning processors must calibrate their gas mixers very carefully and evaluate finished packaging in order to ensure specifications are met.

Introducing CO into the packaging of your case-ready beef product can help ensure that product maintains a fresh red appearance that is appealing to consumers, providing of course, that processors take proper precautions.

Include related activities in your HACCP plan
With any food safety issue, your HACCP plan is always a good place to start. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn't issued a ruling on incorporating CO-related meat packaging activities into HAACP plans, it's advisable to do so. It's also advisable to keep meticulous records about CO use before, during and after packaging, if only to verify that appropriate amounts of the gas were utilized.

Buy pre-mixed formulations
This may be the route to go if you're a smaller processor. Sure, pre-mixed formulations will eat into your bottom line, but they also will remove operator error or machinery malfunction from the equation, as well as eliminate the danger of storing large quantities of carbon monoxide on-site.

Maintain your mixers
Today's mixers, which blend various gases to predetermined levels, are highly accurate, but must be scrupulously maintained in order to function properly. Also remember there are common safety issues in the storage and handling of large amounts of carbon monoxide, including constant testing for the presence of the gas in the work atmosphere.

Keep it cool
The CO and other components of the modified atmosphere must be kept chilled so as not to warm the meat during the packaging process. This may require the construction of dedicated storage facilities.

Flush properly
One common problem is incomplete flushing of ambient atmospheres before the new atmosphere is introduced. Oxygen sticks to meat products and can be difficult to remove entirely, potentially shortening shelf life and reducing the stabilization effects of CO. Most modern vacuum equipment will remove all traces of ambient atmosphere, and the use of a flushing tunnel prior to packaging can also remove oxygen traces.

It's best to test
Testing of finished goods, a necessity in establishing an effective HACCP plan, has been a thorn in the side of meat processors shifting to CO MAP packaging. Until recently, it required sending random samples of packaged meat to outside laboratories for analysis of the atmosphere. Problem is, liquid chromatography testing can be both expensive and, more importantly, time consuming in this shelf-life-centric industry. However, inexpensive portable testing units are being developed, some that deliver near-instant results after packaging. The gas stream analyzer includes a probe that samples the atmosphere in a finished package, with the analysis available on a large display. The company is also working on an in-line version that would automatically test random samples.

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