One doesn’t need a map to determine a packaging issue that has garnered attention in and beyond the meat industry: low-oxygen carbon monoxide MAP packaging (also referred to as Lo-Ox CO)
Last year, a contingent of groups opposed to the use of carbon monoxide in MAP applications urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to again review the use of Lo-Ox CO to help retain desired color. Among those voices were the Consumer Federation of America and a company that offers another method to be used with MAP packaging; the opponents argued that the artificial color linked to the use of CO can actually result in consumers eating meat past its expiration date and can mask off colors, odors or textures that would indicate spoilage.
The debate soon began simmering in more public circles: At one point in 2006, the Chicago City Council debated passing an ordinance to prevent the use of Lo-Ox CO.
Those who represent the meat industry, packaging suppliers and processors that use CO in MAP for fresh beef have refuted those claims, saying such arguments were based on their own interests
“The bottom line is this: the ‘hubbub’ has not been generated by consumers, but has been generated by a disgruntled ingredient supplier who stands to lose profitability since the antioxidant product they profit from would be unnecessary in a low-oxygen packaging environment. Any questions that were raised about this safe and innovative format were raised because of issues dealing with competition, not consumer acceptance or safety,” opined AMI’s Huffman. When it comes to safety, Huffman adds that Lo-Ox CO MAP has been shown to be as safe as it is effective for ensuring quality and satisfaction among meat consumers.
“Low-oxygen packaging formats, including those with atmospheres modified with nitrogen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, are successful and doing very well in the marketplace, largely because eliminating oxygen from contact with food products is a scientifically sound business practice,” he says.
Several meat and safety experts have come out in support of the various benefits of Low-Ox CO MAP. Among them is Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.
“MAP with CO packaging of fresh beef is a major technological achievement in providing extended shelf life and reduced microbiological hazards to fresh beef,” Doyle remarked at the recent Canadian Meat Council symposium.
Those who are offering Low-Ox CO MAP continue to find an audience for their products and likely will in the future.
“Well over 300 million packages of fresh meat, packaged under the Low-Ox MAP format, have been sold and safely consumed by the American public over the last four years. Leading consumer branded companies have reported that consumer acceptance has been incredibly high with this product line launch,” Huffman reports.
Likewise, Huston Keith, principal of Keymark Associates, agrees that the issue seems to have ebbed a bit in the public consciousness. “A lot of the publicity seems to have blown over,” he says.
That said, while there has been acceptance of Lo-Ox MAP, and the issue is not as much on the front burner as it was last year, this type of packaging isn’t for everyone. Randy Irion, director, retail marketing for NCBA, predicts that although MAP will remain a prominent form for meat, particularly ground beef, it may come in a different form. “MAP packaging as it exists today with modified atmosphere will continue, and I think they’ll explore new materials and gases,” he shares.
The fact that Low-Ox MAP became a public debate and even the focus of a city council action underscores the importance of packaging and how it is presented to the consumer, Irion emphasizes.
“I think it’s also a very good indication of the fact that education and communication is very important whenever new technology comes on the scene,” he observes.
— Lynn Petrak