- SIOUX CITY, Iowa -
For as little as a penny a burger,consumers could soon be certain that
ground beef is free offood-borne bacteria.
- Titan Corp. officials unveiled their new electric pasteurizationprocess
Monday at a test facility in Sioux City.
- The SureBeam process, which uses electricity to process
meat,vegetables, fruits and other foods, already has won approval fromthe
Food and Drug Administration and expects acceptance from theU.S. Department
of Agriculture by year's end.
- "What this does is eliminate 99.99999 percent of
harmfulbacteria, of food pathogens,'' Gene W. Ray, president, chairman
andchief executive officer of the San Diego-based company. "The FDAand
USDA, they've taken all the research that has been done andcome up with
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimatethat
76 million people are sickened each year by food-bornebacteria, such as
E. coli, salmonella and listeria, with 325,000hospitalized, and 500 deaths.
- In 1997, children in five states became ill with hepatitis
Aafter eating strawberries from Mexico. That same year, Hudson FoodCo.
recalled 25 million pounds of ground beef tainted with E. coli.
- The National Institutes of Health estimates the annual
cost offood-borne diseases at $5 billion to $6 billion dollars in directmedical
expenditures and lost productivity.
- Titan already has signed contracts, pending USDA approval,
withsome of the biggest names in U.S. food processing: IBP, Emmpak,Cargill,
ConAgra and Tyson.
- "Predominantly, we'll be expanding into their facilities.
We'llbe putting one of these into each production line,'' Ray said."And
some of these places have five or six production lines.''
- A SureBeam processor is set to go online at Hawaii Pride
inMarch or April to pasteurize mangoes. Ray said that operationdoesn't
need USDA approval because it's fruit, not meat.
- The SureBeam process has no effect on the taste or quality
offood. Titan officials warned that electronic pasteurization doesnot lengthen
a food's shelf life and that consumers should still becareful in handling
meat as so to avoid contamination.
- The technology has its origins in the Cold War. The company'sSureBeam
electron accelerator originally won contracts in the1980s, when the Pentagon
envisioned lasers zapping incoming enemymissiles. In 1992, though, the
device was adapted to the businessof sterilizing packaged medical instruments.
- The company's technology works by charging an electronic
beamthat disrupts the DNA structure of the microorganisms it hits,rendering
- An alternative pasteurization process now being used,
calledirradiation, exposes food to gamma rays from radioactive material,such
as Cobalt 60.
- "This is not irradiation under another name,'' said
Sen. TomHarkin, D-Iowa, ranking minority member of the Senate AgricultureCommittee.
- "The technology is totally different in that you
haveradioactive material vs. electricity,'' said Dennis G. Olson,director
of the Utilization Center for Agricultural Products atIowa State University.
- "The SureBeam technology is as safe as a microwave
oven,''Olson said. "Since electronic pasteurization is effective on
alltypes of meats, poultry, fruits, vegetables and grains " fresh
orfrozen " the process will revolutionize the way we safeguard ourfood
- Food processed at the Sioux City plant, including chicken
andground beef, will be sold in test markets beginning early nextyear.
- Titan has contracts with companies that produce approximately
75percent of the 8 to 9 billion pounds of ground beef produced in theUnited
- However, some controversy surrounds SureBeam. The Center
forScience in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group inWashington,
D.C., wants labels describing beef processed by Titan'stechnology to read
"treated by irradiation.''
- The advocacy group says a nationwide poll of more than
1,000people it jointly conducted found that 58 percent wanted anirradiation
label; only 15 percent preferred a label declaringproducts to have been
treated by electronic pasteurization, whichis preferred by Titan.
- Titan provides communications and information technology
to U.S.military and allied government agencies and commercial customers.For
the six months ended June 30, revenues rose 20 percent to$168.2 million.
The company has 3,100 employees.