Shocking News About Meat

Buyer beware: 'Fresh' meat may be preserved with carbon monoxide and diluted with salt water.

| June/July 2007

Meat Processing Illustration

Two of the biggest trends reshaping America's meat supply are gas packaging and brine injection systems.


Not long ago, most of our fresh meat was handled by butchers in local supermarkets and meat shops. Beef was dry aged in coolers for up to four weeks, which made it more tender and flavorful. Aging also allowed water to evaporate, intensifying the flavor and reducing the meat’s weight by up to 20 percent. But skilled butchers were expensive, and the dry aging process required lots of cooler space. So, dry aging is becoming a thing of the past, and that, as well as other cost-cutting aspects of industrial meat production, have brought about major changes in the way beef, pork and chicken are handled before reaching our kitchens.

Two of the biggest trends reshaping America’s meat supply are gas packaging and brine injection systems. Manufacturers save millions of dollars in lost meat turnover with these technologies, which make meat appear fresh longer and pump “flavor” into factory-farmed meat, in the form of salt water and broth. Companies also save on labor costs, since these “case-ready” meats can go straight from the cold truck to the retail shelf. Consumers are left paying for meat pumped up with saltwater solutions that may be spoiled by its expiration date. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of these new practices. Here’s what you need to know to be a smart shopper.


A few case-ready meats, such as bacon, frozen turkey and packaged cold cuts, have long had a place on the nation’s supermarket shelves. But until recently, most fresh meat was packaged by butchers in the store. Now, Wal-Mart is leading the change, converting to 100 percent case-ready meats in 2001. (Interestingly the company’s decision came just a month after meat cutters in a Jacksonville, Texas, store voted to unionize.) Other discount retailers, such as Aldi and SuperTarget, are close behind, and many other supermarket chains now stock pre-packaged meats. In fact, case-ready meat accounted for 60 percent of fresh meat sold nationwide in 2004, up from 49 percent in 2002.


Previously used for specific items such as whole turkeys and pork tenderloins, brine injection now has spread throughout meat selections. Injection systems, also known as pumping, use needles to add solutions of up to 30 percent water, laced with salt and flavorings, to extend shelf life and provide “juiciness and tenderness” to cuts of meat that might otherwise cook up to be tasteless, dry or tough.

This trend has everything to do with the larger transformation of meat production over the past 30 to 40 years. Meat without character or taste comes from livestock developed for rapid growth rather than flavor, fed grain instead of grass, given growth hormones, cooped up indoors, harvested young, and sold without traditional aging. Concerns about bacterial contamination — again exacerbated by industrial production methods — have led the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to advise thoroughly cooking meats, making it more likely that consumers will overcook their steaks and chops, hence the need for added “moistness.” And today’s pressed-for-time home cooks are less likely to employ the slow-cooking techniques that work best with less-expensive cuts.


Like injection systems, what the industry calls “modified atmospheric packaging” (MAP), has been around for a while, but has only recently come into widespread use. The process involves removing regular air from meat packages and replacing it with specific blends of gases, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen. The objective is to control and “enhance” the natural color changes that freshly cut meats undergo as they’re exposed to regular air. This is especially true for beef, which under normal conditions changes from dark purplish red, to bright red, to brownish over a period of several days. Market research has taught retailers that customers will almost invariably choose bright red beef over purplish red beef, even though the latter actually is fresher. Today, by manipulating the “air” in the package, manufacturers can preserve the bright red color for weeks or even months, saving money on lost turnover in the meat case.

5/26/2014 6:43:33 PM

"salt mand injected flavorings makes a cut of meat be dry and tastless" eh?? well I ate a cube steak 2 days ago and almost had to go to the hospital I have bad high blood pressure I am still not over it, I wonder how they would like it if people sneaked and put stufff in their food that made their BP go to stroke levels? or otherwise almost killed them?

11/28/2007 8:25:55 AM

Folks, we are what we eat.... Why are we having so many health problems???? Our veggies are pesticides, fertilized, and contaminated by the harvesters that we use in some places. We want everything cheap when we buy food, etc. What are we spending on health care because of it. People who take the time and cost to raise health food need to be compensated for it. We should spend more for our food and less on medicines which are just more chemicals going in our body. Wake up America. Tiny

7/19/2007 8:30:14 PM

How are kosher meats packaged ?????????

7/5/2007 10:14:14 AM

I really enjoyed this article. Unfortunatly, I have been buying those very packages, without even knowing. I guess the only thing that I wish, is that you would have shown the difference between very fresh meat (with the purplish color) against the semi fresh (bright red) that I would automatically buy, until now!! Thank you

6/29/2007 9:00:09 PM

Thank you so much for this information I eat very little red meat but much chicken. I did not have any trouble reading this information as per Shar's letter. I will look for a local farmer. Thx Again Chatty

6/29/2007 7:48:43 PM

This article is hard to read. Syntax and words are missing in sentences. Then there is formating, the extensive advertizing covers the text making the meaning impossible to understand.

6/26/2007 6:08:55 PM

This story is yet another testament to the wrongs of industrial agriculture. Read the Omnivore's Dilemma! You don't have to go vegetarian, buy from a local rancher or farmer who raises their animals right and processes them at a small butcher shop. Look at for local producers near you!

6/19/2007 3:16:51 PM

Yet another reason to not eat meat.

6/18/2007 9:09:32 PM

This was a great story. I was between jobs a year ago and took a job at a butcher shop. Without going into the details and spoiling your appetite, I'll just say that I attribute my vegetarian diet today to the experiences I had working there...

6/5/2007 8:45:32 AM

This was an eye-opening story. I used to buy the gas packages back when I bought meat at the grocery store, and I had no idea. Makes me wonder about restaurant meat. Is there any way to know what you're getting? I know some local restaurants try to use locally produced food, but what about places like Applebee's? scary...

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