Food safety experts debate irradiation’s potential

By John Chadwell

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(Sept. 15, 12:15 p.m.) MONTEREY, Calif. — Food safety experts revisited the topic of irradiation Sept. 11 at the Fresh Express Fresh Produce Safety Research Conference, and many agreed irradiation is part of the safety solution but probably not the end-all, be-all.

Michael Osterholm, director for the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and advisor for Fresh Express, said he wants a “silver bullet” for food safety and irradiation could be it. However, he hinted not only consumers, but those employed in the fresh produce and other food industries have not worked hard enough on irradiation.

“We have not done a good job of trying to understand irradiation,” he said at the conference.

Robert Buchanan, director and professor, Center for Food Systems Security and Safety, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland, said he has conducted research on irradiation and feels it is just one good food safety tool.

He said the expense of setting up an irradiation facility would be viable for the Salinas, Calif., area, where many fresh produce grower-shippers could put it to use. However, he said it would be too costly for small growers in other regions, unless they belonged to co-ops.

Jeff Farrar, branch chief, Food and Drug Branch of the California Department of Public Health, said even if irradiation did work as hoped, consumers wouldn’t accept it and he said he doubts consumers would pay a premium for irradiated produce.

Christine Bruhn, consumer food marketing specialist at the University of California-Davis, agreed with Buchanan’s assessment of irradiation’s potential.

Osterholm has been a leader in introducing irradiation in supermarkets and we share similar views, but it is not a silver bullet,” she said. “We must continue to have appropriate sanitation practices, but it is an additional step at the end of processing that can give the level of safety the public expects.”



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