No threat to consumers from COPs from packaged meat

09-Aug-2010 - Germany

Packaged meat on supermarket shelves often carries the wording "Packaged in a controlled atmosphere". This means that a gas mixture with, in some cases, a high oxygen level has been added to the packaging. The meat retains its red colour for far longer but the aroma and flavour seemingly change faster than in the case of other fresh meat. More cholesterol oxidation products (COPs) seemingly form in the oxygen-enriched atmosphere. Consumers ingest these COPs from all cholesterol-containing foods. Their impact on the human organism has not been fully elucidated. "What we do know is that the additional amount of COPs ingested by consumers from oxygen-enriched packaging is very low. Based on the latest findings there is no health risk from the additional amounts of cholesterol oxidation products", says BfR President, Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel.

Cholesterol is an essential fat component that fulfils diverse metabolic functions in humans and is also formed to a large degree by the body itself. The excessive dietary intake of cholesterol is, however, suspected of increasing the risk of hardening of the arteries and, by extension, of the related cardiovascular diseases. Cholesterol is present in numerous foods of animal origin. When exposed to oxygen it oxidises and cholesterol oxidation products (COPs) are formed. It was observed that the storing of previously heated meat leads to a major increase in certain COPs. Studies indicate that cholesterol oxidation is accelerated in the presence of an elevated oxygen concentration, as is the case in the described controlled atmosphere packaging.

The effect of COPs on the human organism has not been fully elucidated. An initial assessment by BfR does, however, come to the conclusion that the COP intake by consumers from fresh meat packaged in a controlled atmosphere is only marginally higher.

The packaging of meat in a controlled atmosphere with an elevated oxygen concentration influences the physical properties of the meat. The meat retains its red colour for longer because the oxygen binds to the muscle pigment.

At the same time, the elevated oxygen level seems to influence the quality of the meat. It matures more quickly and may spoil more quickly, because the fat oxidises and becomes rancid. A rancid smell and taste may, therefore, occur earlier than in meat stored in the customary fashion.

The term “Packaged in a controlled atmosphere” does not say anything about the microbiological quality of the meat, i.e. the germs it may be contaminated with. When preparing fresh meat from this kind of packaging, consumers should observe the same kitchen hygiene rules as they do for other meat.

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