If you’re like most Americans, you most likely buy your meat at the supermarket. Be it raw chicken and steaks from the butcher case or cold cuts from the deli counter, we tend to not give much thought to the meat we buy beyond whether it’s fresh and how much it costs. But you might want to think twice before buying your next Styrofoam-and-cellophane-wrapped chicken breast, because what we’re about to tell you may have you buying all your meat at the organic butcher shop from now on.
The Deli Slicer Is One of the Dirtiest Places in the Supermarket
The deli slicer, and the cold cuts that it slices, are at serious risk of contamination. If the blade isn’t regularly cleaned, it can transfer bacteria (including listeria) to everything it touches. A joint team of researchers from the USDA, FDA, and CDC sampled deli meats at the point of purchase, and three percent tested positive for listeria. Thankfully, however, Listeria rates have declined more than 80 percent over the last decade and there has not been a recall due to listeria illnesses in ready to eat meat products in more than a decade.
The Packages of Raw Meat Can Be E. coli Farms
Raw meat can harbor E. coli, listeria, and plenty of other nasty pathogens. Plastic wrap isn’t the best defense against the outside world. Ever picked up a package of raw chicken only to have it leak all over the other packages? That right there is how people get sick. While E. coli, listeria, and salmonella infection rates have decreased in recent years, it’s always important to wash your hands after touching meat packages and make sure to cook it thoroughly.
The Fish May Be Mislabeled
The UDSA is actually pretty lax about testing meat to make sure it is what it says it is on the label, primarily because nobody is butchering horses in the U.S. and it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between, say, beef and pork. Fish, on the other hand, is a different story. A recent study found that up to a third of all fish currently on the market is mislabeled, with expensive fish like tuna being replaced by others that look similar. While most of the counterfeit fish is safe to eat, some of it — like snake mackerel — can cause serious gastric issues.
Expiration Dates on Meat Packaging Are Generally Meaningless
We hate to break it to you, but expiration dates really don’t mean much. Sure, Cheez-Its will go stale and milk will go bad a certain number of weeks after packaging, but supermarket meat departments, where they do their own labeling, are generally left up to their own devices (30 states don’t regulate date labeling at all). This means that if an item is set to expire and it still looks okay, supermarkets are allowed to put a new label on, pushing the expiration date back by days or even more than a week. We suggest checking to see when the food first hit the shelf, if possible, or buying meat from a trusted butcher.
A Surprising Chemical Is Used to Make Meat Look Pink
When fresh meat has been sitting in a refrigerator for a couple days, it oxidizes and starts to turn a shade of grayish-brown, which doesn’t look particularly appetizing, especially when shoppers are looking for shelves of bright red meat. In order to avoid having to throw away the meat, as much as 70 percent of all the raw meat sold in supermarkets is treated with a suspiring chemical: carbon monoxide. The gas interacts with the myoglobin in the meat, locking in the bright red color. Called “modified atmosphere packaging” by the factory farm industry, carbon monoxide has been shown to keep meat looking artificially fresh for up to a full year. The North American Meat Institute sheds more light on this practice