Irradiated Meat Is
Now Available
By Neil Sherman - HealthSCOUT Reporter

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 just yet.
"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, Mickelson says.
"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 you.
For more information on e-beam technology, visit The Titan Corporation.
And to learn more about E. coli 0157:H7, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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