Packaged meat COPs no threat to human health: German study

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Bfr

Cholesterol oxidation products (COPs) associated with packaged fresh meat pose no risk to human health, according to an interim report by the Berlin-based, Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).

In a recently released scientific opinion, the institution’s president, Professor Dr Andreas Hensel said: "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."

BfR scientists concluded, after what they described as “an initial assessment,”​ that COP intake by consumers from fresh meat packaged in a controlled atmosphere is only marginally higher than normal. But COPs’ full impact on human health has yet to be fully explained, they added.

Controlled atmosphere

Packaging meat in a controlled atmosphere with an elevated oxygen concentration helps the meat to retain its red colour for longer because the oxygen binds to the muscle pigment.

But meat treated by this technique, often labeled on supermarket shelves as "Packaged in a controlled atmosphere"​ also appears 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,”​ said the BfR report.

Present in many foods of animal origin, cholesterol oxidizes when it is exposed to oxygen and forms COPs. The higher the oxygen concentration, as in controlled atmosphere packaging, the faster the rate of cholesterol oxidation.

Cholesterol oxidation products can occur naturally in a range of foods if the cholesterol contained in these reacts with the oxygen in the air. These include hard smoked sausages such as salami or raw ham and cooked meat which is stored for longer than fresh meat.

Researchers also noted that storing previously heated meat leads to a major increase in certain COPs.

Cardiovascular diseases

An essential fat component fulfilling a wide range of metabolic functions, cholesterol is formed by the human body and supplied by the diet. Excessive dietary intake of cholesterol is suspected of increasing the risk of hardening of the arteries and consequently cardiovascular diseases.

The report highlights that the term Packaged in a controlled atmosphere does not describe the microbiological quality of the meat such as the germs it may be contaminated with.

BfR plans to produce a finalised assessment of full effects of COPs on health.

A scientific institution within the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, BfR advises both federal and regional government on questions of food, chemical and product safety.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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