- TUESDAY (HealthSCOUT) - Food
processors can now irradiate red meat to kill germs that cause food poisoning,
the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today. The process is considered
the only way to make beef, lamb and pork safe, the agency says. Poultry
has long been irradiated.
- "The rules go into effect today," says Beth
Gaston, a spokesperson for the USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service
in Washington, D.C. "The rule also brings some of the poultry irradiation
regulations into line with the meat regulations."
- But don't go hunting in your supermarket's meat aisle
- "We currently have no starting date, and no specific
target market for irradiated meat," says Gary Mickelson, a spokesperson
for IBP in Dakota Dunes, S.D., the world's largest producer of fresh beef
and pork campylobacter.
- IPB processed 14 billion pounds of beef and pork in 1998,
- "Most of the plants that use irradiation are oriented
to medical irradiation," says Tim Willard, a spokesman for the National
Food Processors Association in Washington, D.C. "There will be lots
of challenges in getting this new product to market."
- Food safety activists say that the USDA should be concentrating
on cleaning up slaughterhouses and monitoring industrialized meat production
-- not using radiation on food. "We think it's a bad idea,"
says Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association of
the Biodemocracy Campaign in Little Marais, Minn. "Irradiating meat
is a false solution to the very real problem of why the meat is contaminated
in the first place."
- Food processors use gamma rays, X-rays and electron-beam
technology to irradiate meat. Irradiation is not supposed to alter the
proteins, fats and carbohydrates in meat nor does it affect the color,
texture or flavor of frozen ground beef, according to researchers at the
University of Iowa.
- The process smashes the DNA of germs like Escherichia
coli 0157:H7, killing it. The USDA says irradiation also reduces other
food poisoning bacteria like listeria, salmonella and campylobacter.
- E. coli 0157:H7 can cause serious illness and sometimes
death, especially in young children and the elderly. According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 73,000 people a year fall
ill and about 61 of those people die.
- Once the meat gets to market, it will have to carry the
"radura," the international symbol of irradiation, says Gaston
"It needs to carry the radura symbol if it is irradiated in its entirety.
If a product is made that includes irradiated meat, like frozen lasagna,
which uses irradiated meat, the ingredient statement must carry a notation
that it is using irradiated meat."
- According to the USDA, irradiation is the only known
method of getting rid of E. coli 0157:H7. Irradiation has been approved
for poultry since 1992 and is used to get rid of bacteria in fruits and
vegetables as well as in dried spices. The process is also under consideration
for hot dogs, lunch meats and other fast-foods products.
- Irradiation is only one of the systems companies will
use to insure food safety, Mickelson says. "We view irradiation as
another layer of protection. It will not replace what we currently do.
It will enhance it." Michelson says that each meat carcass "is
washed, gets a steam cleaning, goes through an organic acid rinse and
then is steam pasteurized."
- Whether consumers will buy irradiated meat is not yet
known, Mickelson says. "We believe it is an acceptable and safe process.
But we view irradiation ultimately, as a consumer choice issue."
- "The first emerging markets will be those places
with a target population that has special food safety concerns, such as
nursing homes and hospitals," Willard adds. "We think that if
someone's aunt is eating an irradiated product, and they see it's safe,
it will drive consumer interest."
- What To Do
- Make up your own mind. There are as many arguments for
irradiation as there are against, and no one has proven that it can harm
you. What has been proven is that it can kill the bacteria that can harm
- For more information on e-beam technology, visit The
- And to learn more about E. coli 0157:H7, check out the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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