Rust and brown meat may seem completely different but are both caused by the same type of chemical reaction- oxidation.
On a molecular level, oxidation occurs when two or more substances move electrons around and form new compounds. The common denominator in many of these reactions? Oxygen! Oxygen all around us reacts with iron to create rust and reacts with the food we leave out- leading to less than appetizing results.
We have to thank oxygen for keeping us alive, but when preparing food local chefs like Thad Stuckey have a different opinion, “Oxygen is our enemy David, especially in the food industry. Anytime we have an interaction with a piece of protein and the air…oxidation starts to occur. What’s happening is enzymatic browning. So the enzymes in the meat are getting a tan.”
Enzymatic browning is completely different than non-enzymatic browning: which results in some of your favorite foods: coffee, toast, a good sear on a steak! I covered an aspect of that last week, but I’ll focus on the bad this week: brown apples, avocadoes, and brown meat- which no one likes!
You probably have seen those in your own kitchen and may have wondered if it’s okay to eat.
If your ground beef has just turned brown- it’s still safe to eat…for now, “It doesn’t mean that the food is bad, it does mean that there’s a very short window to eat that food. Because once the bacterial breakdown starts… then it’s done,” Stuckey explains.
“It’s not going to make your meat taste bad or funky, that’s bacterial infection. But if you have oxidation it means your meat, your product, is exposed to open air and that can lead to bacterial infection. Oxidation itself though just means that the enzymes are interacting with oxygen and are causing some browning.”
Combine the possible threat of spoilage with the unappetizing color- you’ll want to know how to prevent oxidation.
Much like medicine, prevention is more effective than treatment as you’ll want to prevent as much oxygen exposure to your food as possible. Keep your meat sealed and your produce uncut until the moment you use it because as soon as you cut a product, oxidation starts to take place.
Sweet, fatty, and starchy produce undergo oxidation much more quickly because they have a higher percentage of enzymes inside. Apples, avocadoes, and potatoes are the worst offenders- turning brown minutes after slicing it! Consider these potato wedges cut half an hour ago compared to ones kept oxygen-free in a bath of water. This trick can help delay browning whenever you prepare potatoes!
Chef also has another helpful tip for that problematic avocado, “ Take a cut lemon, give it a rub, and then wrap it. That lemon juice has a natural antioxidant. Anytime you can add acid to something, it’s going to prevent oxidation of your food.”
Acid, water baths, and air-tight seals- all techniques you can use to keep your food looking their best longer- by combatting the chemical reaction known as oxidation.
Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson