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Modified atmosphere packaging for meat - the freshness trap
Fresh, beautifully pink and delicious - yes, that's exactly how meat should look in the supermarket. Whether steaks or minced meat, the light pink to red colour of the meat decides whether the product is bought by the consumer. After all, this is what suggests absolute freshness. Because the beautiful red colouring is only visible as long as the meat is "fresh from the butcher", isn't it?
Well, that is true, but with a quite critical trick, this "fresh from butcher" colour can be maintained for several days. And that is by packing meat under a protective atmosphere.
With precisely this method, supermarkets and discounters try to put rose-coloured glasses on their customers in the truest sense of the word. The meat may look wonderfully pink-red, but it has little to do with freshness.
We have taken a closer look at the study results and tests by Foodwatch, the Consumer Protection Agency and the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.
What does modified atmosphere packaging mean?
The freshness trick of the supermarkets
This is precisely the problem with the matter, because the meat may look nice and red for days, but the shelf life is not extended in this way. Despite the supposed visual freshness, the meat may already be rancid, dry and perhaps even inedible.
This deliberate colour illusion means there is a risk of consuming meat that has already spoiled. Whether the shelf life is actually extended depends on the gas mixture used.
Studies were before pack gases
Why is meat treated with gas mixtures?
Because "cosmetically, a lot of oxygen is responsible for the outwardly "fresh", bright red colour of the meat - and thus advantageous for the trade both in terms of sales psychology and business management"³.
However, this overlooks the fact that these gas mixtures have a negative effect on the quality of the meat.
Which packaging gases are used?
Gas mixtures used for packaging in a modified atmosphere are also known as packaging gases. They include mixtures of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and/or oxygen and have quite different effects.
Carbon dioxide and nitrogen, for example, are used to extend shelf life by preventing the spread of germs and bacteria. Oxygen, on the other hand, is used to artificially preserve the beautiful red colouring of the meat. The natural, slightly greyish discolouration of the meat is thus prevented.
Besides a negative effect on quality, the following additional disadvantages have been observed with oxygen-rich pack gases, according to studies:
Oxygen accelerates fat oxidation during cold storage. The meat can become tough and rancid as a result.
The loss of quality is particularly evident when raw minced meat that was packed under oxygen-rich packing gas is frozen: After three months, the meat tastes and smells rancid.
Meat packed under oxygen browns early when heated. This can give the impression that the meat is already cooked through, but is in fact still raw and not ready to eat.⁴
Which meat products are treated with pack gases?
The use of protective gases is mainly used for fresh meat such as minced meat, steaks and poultry. Here, a distinctly oxygen-rich mixture is also frequently used to retain the colour. Sausage and ham, on the other hand, are often treated with an oxygen-free nitrogen-carbon dioxide mixture.
How can I tell if meat has been treated with inert gas?
The label confusion
However, information on the composition or the proportions of the gases does not have to be given.⁵ It does not seem to matter that consumers are being deceived here and have no idea which protective gases were used.
Characteristics of fresh meat
What do I have to look out for?
What is the real shelf life of minced meat?
Fresh minced meat is considered a particularly sensitive meat product and may only be sold by the butcher on the day of preparation. The reason for this is that raw minced meat is much more susceptible to bacteria due to its large surface and should therefore be consumed as quickly as possible.
In addition, discolouration also occurs much more quickly, causing it to quickly turn greyish. This is completely natural, but for supermarkets it is the reason par excellence to work with extra oxygen here.
More precisely, with an inert gas that consists of 30 per cent carbon dioxide and 70 per cent oxygen.⁶
This trick may stop the discolouration of the mince, but it causes the fat to quickly become rancid and the quality to be impaired. This is also confirmed by the state Max Rubner Institute (MRI). The stated shelf life should therefore really not be exhausted. In addition, the use-by date is tied to very specific storage regulations and temperatures
In order to keep minced meat in this form for up to 5 days, the meat would have to be stored at a maximum of 2 °C. In a normal refrigerator, however, temperatures range between 2 °C and 10 °C. In a normal refrigerator, however, temperatures range between 4 - 8 °C. So it is hardly possible to meet these requirements at home.⁷
How can I recognise high-quality minced meat?
Fresh mince should be prepared immediately. The meat has a relatively neutral smell and may be pink to slightly greyish in colour. At Fitmeat, we do not use pack gases and supply you with fresh minced meat for quick use. If you don't need the meat immediately, you can freeze it without losing quality.
Our tip for minced meat in the freezer: "divide" the closed vacuum bag with a cooking spoon - this way you can only take out part of it even when it is frozen, as it is not a frozen "lump".
Links to our minced meat:
The following references and sources were used and cited for this article:
¹, ², ³: Foodwatch (Studie): Fleischmarkt unterm Sauerstoffzelt
⁵: Bundesministerium für Risikobewertung: Fragen und Antworten zum Thema Fleisch unter Schutzatmosphäre mit erhöhtem Sauerstoffgehalt.
⁶, ⁷: Online article by Merkur.de – Abgepacktes Hack hat einen gefährlichen Haken, den Sie kennen sollten
⁴: Lebensmittelklarheit.de / Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V. - vzbv. – Informationen zu Fleisch unter Schutzatmosphäre
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