Safety Zone
By: James Marsden

Is irradiation the answer to E. coli in ground beef? Part 1

Source of Article:

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

For the past several weeks, the subject of irradiation has been raised by readers of this blog as a way to eliminate the problem of E. coli O157:H7 once and for all. There are pros and cons to irradiation and a possible way forward that would allow for consensus acceptance of this potentially important food safety technology by consumers and processors.

First some of the pros:

1.       The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recognized the safety of food irradiation and USDA has established a regulation for meat and poultry products

2.       If applied at pasteurization doses, irradiation can eliminate E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and other pathogens from raw meat and poultry products.

3.       The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that irradiating half of all ground beef, poultry, pork and processed meats would reduce food poisoning by 1 million cases and prevent 6000 serious illnesses and 350 deaths (Smith, JS. Pillai, S. Irradiation and food safety. Food Technol. 2004; 24:5).

4.       If meat products are treated under vacuum or in a controlled atmosphere, irradiation can be applied with a minimal impact on flavor.

5.       Irradiation has a negligible effect on vitamins and other nutrients.

6.       The companies that are marketing irradiated ground beef have encountered little consumer resistance.

Now some of the cons:

1.       Irradiation is considered a food additive and therefore, labeling requirements are rather burdensome. Irradiated foods must prominently display the radura symbol on the label.

2.     There are two types of food irradiation in common use Gamma irradiation which is based on exposure to a radioactive source (usually Cobalt-60) and Electron Beam irradiation which is based on electrons that are formed from wall plug electricity. Gamma irradiation has the advantage of better penetration and more even treatment, but it is more controversial and less accepted by consumers. Electron Beam irradiation is limited in application because it can only treat products that are a few inches in thickness.

The third type of irradiation involves X-Ray energy and combines the advantages of Gamma and Electron Beam. However, the technology has not been developed as a practical means of treating food.

3.       Pasteurization doses for Salmonella are fairly high and difficult to achieve without significant adverse effects on product flavor and overall acceptance. Pasteurization doses for E. coli O157:H7 are generally lower, but vary by strain.

4.      Most irradiated ground beef being marketed today is not treated at pasteurization doses.

5.       There is some evidence that E. coli can develop some resistance to Electron Beam irradiation (Levanduski and Jacznski, International Journal of Food Microbiology, Volume 121, Issue 3, 10 February, 2008, Pages 328-334).

6.       Other less controversial interventions have been developed and are in use that have partially obviated the need for irradiation (i.e. High Hydrostatic Pressure).

Next week, I will present some ideas about how irradiation could become better accepted by consumers and more attractive to the food industry.

Are there some pros and cons that I missed? Please let me know.

8/14/2009 11:44 AM 





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