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Albertans would buy CO-treated meat: survey

Hamburger packaged with carbon monoxide to keep it cherry-red and fresh-looking would likely win consumers’ acceptance even if they knew that much detail, according to a new University of Alberta study.

Modified atmosphere packaging, a process already used in the U.S., seals a small amount of carbon monoxide (CO) gas in a package of fresh hamburger meat, stabilizing its fresh, cherry red colour that consumers “consistently” prefer over light red or “brownish-coloured” meat.

The process also extends the meat’s shelf life from a three-day window to as wide as 14 days.

Sven Anders, a professor of rural economy at the U of A and this study’s lead researcher, said in a release Thursday that “proper labelling and public education” about the benefits of such packaging would be the keys in assuring consumers of the product’s safety.

Anders reported that a survey of 205 Alberta consumers found 60 per cent would be willing to pay more for the cherry-red colour and extended 14-day shelf life when they learned it was artificially obtained through modified atmosphere packaging.

“Our participants consistently preferred a cherry-red meat colour, so we concluded that the use of carbon monoxide as a colour-stabilizing technique was largely accepted by consumers for ground-beef packaging,” he said.

But he stressed that prominent labelling and public information would be crucial factors in getting all shoppers to buy into the new packaging technology. “The product looks better, but people would have to pay close attention to the expiry date,” he said.

Anders’ study was funded by the Alberta Livestock Industry Development Fund and the Beef Information Centre wing of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

Anders said in the release that he supports bringing the technology to Canada, citing the savings that extended shelf life would bring to meat processors and retail distributors “and, subsequently, to consumers.”

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