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10/20
2008
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FSIS Issues Draft Label Policy Guidance for N-60 E. coli O157:H7 Testing Claims
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Source of Article: http://www.meatami.com/ht/display/ArticleDetails/i/43109
(American Meat Institute)
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued a draft guidance to the industry on the use of labels bearing an FSIS-approved N-60 E. coli O157:H7 testing claim. Such special label claims are voluntary. An establishment may use such claims when it demonstrates such E. coli O157:H7 testing claims are truthful and not misleading. FSIS needs to approve such claims before the establishment can use them on labeling.
FSIS allows the use of labels that contain special claims (e.g. instructional and disclaimer statements for E. coli O157:H7) under certain conditions. In order to provide receiving establishments ¦¡ particularly small and very small plants ¦¡ with information about the HACCP system and testing done at the supplier establishment, the Labeling and Program Delivery Division (LPDD) has developed a N-60 testing claim guidance. This labeling claim is intended to provide the receiving establishment with this information in lieu of Certificates of Analysis (COAs) that may not properly transfer with product through distributors. This claim asserts that the raw beef component has been produced under an integrated control program between the slaughter/dressing operation and the trim production operation and tested for the presence of E. coli O157:H7 using a particular sample method (e.g., N-60 sampling). Labels bearing this claim would not be approved for products sold at retail or directly to consumers.
FSIS is providing these draft compliance guides for review and comment. All stakeholders are encouraged to submit their comments to FSISGuidanceDocumentComments@fsis.usda.gov. Comments will be accepted until November 17, 2008.

FDA Sets China For First Overseas Office; More To Follow
(Dow Jones Newswires, DC)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will open its first overseas offices in China this year, as part of efforts to regulate food sent to the United States, an official said Thursday.
Offices will also be opened in India, Europe and Latin America for the first time, said Mike Leavitt, secretary of health and human services.
The move reflected the increased globalization of the world's food and drug trade, notably from developing to developed nations, he said.
"Increasing our presence overseas will provide greater protections to American consumers at home and benefit our host countries as well," Leavitt said. "Opening these offices will mark a key milestone in the globalization of our efforts to enhance the safety of imported food and medical products."
Food quality concerns are paramount for the FDA after recent high profile cases involving China.The first office will open by the end of 2008 in Beijing, with additional staff to be posted in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in 2009
Over the last month, countries around the world have issued recalls and bans of Chinese-made dairy products because high levels of melamine were detected.
In total, 46,810 children were hospitalized after drinking milk tainted with melamine, which was added in place of water to increase volume.
Figures from China's Ministry of Health said 5,824 children were still receiving hospital treatment for kidney diseases due to the tainted products, according to a report from state news agency Xinhua.
"The globalization of the food supply and medical product manufacturing has demanded that we do things differently," said FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach. "We won't have to send our experts to another country to work with foreign governments and regulated industry to improve our oversight - we'll have staff living there and working on the ground 365 days a year."
Last year, the U.S. imported more than two trillion dollars worth of products from around 825,000 importers. 10-16-08

Spinach, lettuce irradiation just a beginning?
Oct 16, 2008 9:52 AM, By Jim Langcuster
Auburn University
Source of Article: http://southeastfarmpress.com/vegetables-tobacco/food-safety-1016/
Jean Weese could be described as the Barbara Mandrell of food safety. In the fashion of Mandrell, the singer who embraced country music long before it became cool or acceptable in many quarters, Weese, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System food scientist and Auburn University professor of nutrition and food science, was touting the benefits of irradiation even while many watchdog groups considered it well beyond the parameters of respectable discourse.
Now, after years of what seemed like a long trek through the desert, she and many of her colleagues feel vindicated ? at least partly. The federal government announced in August that it would allow food producers to subject spinach and lettuce to mild doses of radiation to kill food-borne pathogens.
In announcing its decision, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated that it believed irradiation not only will go a long way toward ridding foods of potentially harmful pathogens but also would extend the products¡¯ shelf lives ? something Weese and other experts have argued frequently and passionately for years.
As far as she¡¯s concerned, FDA¡¯s decision is long overdue.
¡°We¡¯re one of the few countries that don¡¯t allow massive amounts of food to be irradiated,¡± Weese says, adding that the Netherlands, where irradiation is widely used, is considered to possess one of the safest food supplies in the world.
¡°Other European countries also have been irradiating a wide range of food for years,¡± she says.
Weese was one of several U.S. food safety researchers who used laboratory research years ago to prove to federal regulators that irradiation could work ? and work well ? with leafed produce.
Weese and fellow Auburn researchers injected E.coli bacteria into the stems of lettuce and then irradiated it to see if this would destroy all of the bacteria.? Irradiation was shown to kill bacteria on the surface and within the plant ? for Weese a testimony to the effective role this procedure could play in protecting consumers against bacteria that could not be removed merely through simple washing.
She says this recent FDA decision likely marks the beginning of what will likely involve several other types of produce, starting with tomatoes and peppers, she says.
¡°The most recent food safety scares have been with tomatoes and peppers, and I suspect these will be the next types of produce approved for irradiation,¡± she says.
Weese describes irradiation, which uses gamma radiation to kill microorganisms, as a very simple process. The products are taken into a room and exposed for a short time to Cobalt 60. What remains after treatment is a product that looks, tastes and feels the same way it did before irradiation occurred, though one completely free of potentially harmful bacteria, she says.
Irradiated meat has been available on U.S. grocery store shelves for years, Weese says, adding that irradiation for leafy produce was stymied partly by concerns over what effect this procedure would have on produce with high water content. Based on her own studies, she believes these concerns will likely prove groundless.

Detroit firm resumes lettuce packaging amid ongoing E. coli probe
FREE PRESS STAFF October 15, 2008
Source of Article: http://www.freep.com/article/20081015/NEWS01/81015020
Aunt Mid's production of large industrial-sized packages of iceberg lettuce salad at its Detroit facility has resumed while an investigation into an E.coli outbreak blamed on California lettuce used by the company continues, Michigan health and agriculture officials reported Tuesday.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture did product and environmental sample testing at Aunt Mid¡¯s the last week of September and additional testing was conducted by the state health department, Michigan State University, the federal Food and Drug Administration and Aunt Mid's. Because lettuce from the outbreak was not available at the time of the testing, state health officials say those tests all came back negative for E. coli.
State agriculture officials say Aunt Mid¡¯s is monitoring and testing each lot of its Fresh Pak bagged lettuce it produces for a 30-day period and is providing those results to the state, which will also randomly test production for any evidence of contamination.
A total of 50 cases of E. coli with the same genetic fingerprint have been reported since Sept. 1, including 38 cases in Michigan, nine in Illinois and three from Ontario province in Canada. The Michigan cases included a group of Michigan State students and some inmates at Lenawee County Jail whom authorities say ate contaminated lettuce from large commercial user bags sold by Aunt Mid's.Twenty-one of those sickened have been hospitalized -- including one with hemolytic uremic syndrome -- but no known deaths have been reported. No new illnesses are expected because of the lapse of time and because the contaminated lettuce identified by authorities as the source is no longer available, state health officials said.
An investigation that included independent studies in Michigan and Illinois identified iceberg lettuce as the source of the illness and a Michigan Department of Agriculture traceback investigation determined that Aunt Mid's was the common processor of iceberg lettuce that was washed, cut and bagged.
How the lettuce, which was as identified as originating in California, became contaminated, remains undetermined, Michigan agricultural officials said. The California Department of Public Health is continuing its investigation into the origin and handling of the lettuce involved in the outbreak.
However, Michigan health officials remind that such traceback investigations take time because of the records that must be reviewed and data analyzed. Data from patients who reported being sickened must be carefully analyzed and tested to determine the origin of the illness and the food involved.

Meat tainted with Salmonella was on its way to Finland and Sweden
Thursday 16.10.2008
Source of Article: http://www.hs.fi/english/
Danish officials have caught up with an outbreak of salmonella, which has been spreading since February. Danish food safety officials have found salmonella in pork produced at the Horsens slaughterhouse run by Danish Crown. The bacteria was found in a consignment of meat that was intended for the Finnish and Swedish markets. Britta Wiander, head inspector of the import and market supervision unit of the Finnish Food Safety Authority (EVIRA), says that legislation protects Finland very well against tainted imported meat.
¡°Before the meat is sent to Finland it must be checked for salmonella. A laboratory statement has to come with the meat¡±, Wiander says.
Finland has special permission from the European Union to implement tighter regulations than the rest of the EU. There is little salmonella in Finland, and most Finns who are infected with it catch the disease during travel abroad.
The discovery at Danish Crown does not explain the whole epidemic, nor does it mean that Danish Crown would be the original source of the problem, it is most likely that the contamination occurred already before the animal came to the slaughterhouse.
Danish Crown packs meats for export, so its meat cannot be responsible for the epidemic raging in Denmark, where more than 1,000 people have been infected this year, and six have died. Denmark is the world¡¯s largest exporter of pork, but the Typhimurium U292 strain of salmonella, which is the one that has been spreading in Denmark, has not been detected in other countries. Danish officials have been desperately looking for a source, going through refrigerators of those who are ill, checking their credit card records, and taking samples at various food processing plants.

Cow Brains, Spinal Cords to be Banned From Pet Food Starting in 2009
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 by: David Gutierrez
Source of Article: http://www.naturalnews.com/024489.html
(NaturalNews) Effective April 23, 2009, the FDA has banned a series of cattle products from all animal feed and pet food in attempt to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.
BSE is a fatal, degenerative disease of the brain cause by defective proteins known as prions. These prions can be acquired by consuming the flesh of infected animals and lead to a similarly fatal human version of the disease, known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
Federal regulations already prohibit using ruminant protein as part of the feed given to other ruminants. These measures were instituted in the United States and Canada in 1997, after a mad cow outbreak in the United Kingdom.
Ruminants are animals that chew their cud, such as cows, sheep and goats.
Other U.S. protections against mad cow disease include a partial ban on slaughtering cattle that cannot stand, which are more likely to be infected with BSE, and a requirement that meatpackers remove the spine and brain from all slaughtered animals. These are the body parts most likely to carry mad-cow-causing prions.
The new regulations expand these rules in an attempt to keep BSE prions out of any animal feed, out of awareness that ruminant and non-ruminant feed might contaminate each other during the manufacturing or transport processes, or that ruminants might accidentally be given the wrong kind of feed.Any animal feed will now be prohibited from containing any materials from a BSE-infected animal; the brain or spinal cord of any cattle aged 30 months or older; materials from any cattle that are aged 30 months or older, have not had their spinal cords removed and have not been inspected and approved for human consumption; tallow containing more than 0.15 percent insoluble purities, or that has been derived from any other prohibited materials; and mechanically separated beef derived from any other prohibited materials.

Beleaguered Chinese dairies pledge high standards
(Associated Press ? China)
By HENRY SANDERSON
Chinese dairy executives trying to shore up their beleaguered industry pledged Thursday to implement higher standards, while nearly 6,000 babies remained hospitalized with kidney problems from contaminated milk.
Officials in the major dairy-producing region of Inner Mongolia said the country's two largest dairies were planning to consolidate farming and raw milk collection to allow better quality control.
The move is the latest attempt to contain the fallout after baby formula contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine was blamed for causing the deaths of four infants and sickening about 54,000 other children in mainland China.
The Health Ministry said Wednesday that 5,800 children were still hospitalized, six in serious condition.Chinese authorities have blamed dairy suppliers for the food safety scandal that began last month, saying they added melamine to watered-down milk to fool quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein.
Melamine, a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers, can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it and, in extreme cases, can lead to life-threatening kidney failure. Infants are particularly susceptible.
In an effort to restore public trust in local milk supplies, reporters were taken on a tour of dairy facilities in Inner Mongolia, home to Mengniu Dairy Group Co. and Yili Industrial Group Co., both of which have been implicated in the scandal.
Mengniu and Yili have seen their shares plummet. The leading business magazine, Caijing, reported that losses at both companies were expected to top $526 million in the next four to five months.
Officials said quality checks have intensified in recent weeks, with Mengniu and Yili deploying 3,000 inspectors throughout the region, and the government more than 4,000.
"Provide 100 percent safety to consumers," read a slogan on a red banner in the ultra-clean processing and packaging hall at Yili's headquarters in Hohhot.
Yili employees showed reporters a new station for melamine testing where workers dressed in lab coats and gloves used new testing equipment they said cost the company $15 million to import from the United States and Japan.
"After this incident, we have increased melamine checks on all raw milk supplies (and) only that which passes the tests goes into the factory," said Yili executive president Zhang Jianqiu, after the tour. "All of Yili's products on the markets for sale ... meet the standards." Government officials said the blame did not lie with the companies but lower down the chain with the farmers. Ren Yaping, a vice governor of Inner Mongolia, said the government and the industry are considering merging milk collection stations and farmers into larger cooperatives as a way to improve quality."The most important thing at the next stage is to start from the raw milk and improve the inspection right through the production process," Ren said.
The tainted milk scandal has led to more than 30 countries restricting Chinese dairy products, and in some cases all Chinese food imports.
In Vietnam, health officials said Thursday that three milk products imported from a Japanese company's factory in Singapore were found to be contaminated with melamine.
The products' Vietnamese distributor, Huong Thuy Company Ltd., said the milk melon, cappuccino coffee and milk coffee all came from Pokka Corp.'s factory in Singapore.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian government on Thursday banned the import of ammonium bicarbonate, a baking agent, from China, after certain products tested positive for melamine.
Malaysia has already banned the import of all milk and milk-based products from China. 10-16-08

'Meaningless' B.S.E. testing hinders U.S. beef industry
(MEATPOULTRY.com, October 16, 2008)
by Bryan Salvage
Source of Article: http://www.meatpoultry.com
TOKYO ?What is hindering a hungry world¡¯s access to protein, driving up food costs and harming local economies, as well as the U.S. beef industry, are the combination of an overreliance on meaningless testing and a lack of focus on documenting the effectiveness of steps that are making significant inroads against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. So claimed Dr. Ulrich Kihm, a leading global expert on B.S.E., at a conference on Oct. 15 in Tokyo for Japan¡¯s opinion leaders hosted by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
The former chief veterinary officer of Switzerland with extensive experience in the research and analysis of infectious animal diseases, including B.S.E., spoke at the seminar. Other speakers included Dr. Masahiko Ariji, a researcher for the AMITA Institute for Sustainable Economics, plus a panel of Japanese journalists and health industry experts.
Japan¡¯s policy on testing 100% of cattle for B.S.E. ? regardless of age ? has been ineffective, Dr. Kihm told the audience, which included more than 80 Japanese government officials, meat industry representatives, media and opinion leaders, including Takeshi Mikami, chairperson of the Food Safety Commission for the Government of Japan. The youngest documented case of B.S.E. to his knowledge was 34 months of age.
Removing specified risk materials and the implementation of bans on the use of meat and bone meal for livestock feed, however, have dramatically reduced the incidence of B.S.E. and the risk of vC.J.D. (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), Dr. Kihm added.
Although there is a risk of B.S.E. for Japanese consumers, it has not been accurately reported, Dr. Ariji charged. "The risk of dying from B.S.E. is one of the smallest, least measurable food-related risks," he added.
The U.S. International Trade Commission recently issued a report detailing that since B.S.E. was discovered in the United States in December 2003, the U.S. beef industry has lost an estimated $11 billion in missed sales and opportunities and increased costs, said Philip Seng, U.S.M.E.F. president and chief executive officer.
Japan¡¯s insistence on 100% testing for all cattle has been a costly error, acknowledged a panel of distinguished Japanese media and health industry experts ? but this policy is difficult to reverse because it has been portrayed to Japanese consumers as an essential safety step. Dr. Ariji stated that Japan has wasted 1 trillion yen (roughly $10 billion) on animal testing that has not saved any lives.
"The political atmosphere at the time [B.S.E. was first reported in Japan] would not allow limited testing," said Dr. Yoshihiro Ozawa, an advisor to the international world organization for animal health and a panelist. "I regret that scientists didn¡¯t make the point that cattle that were not tested were still safe. It is important to say that the 100% testing is not necessary, otherwise what is not correct will still be done."

A glowing reference for food-borne pesticides
[October 15, 2008]Source of Article: http://www.spectroscopynow.com/

The control of pesticides on foods bound for sale is an ever-present problem for the food industry with dire consequences for consumers if the protection systems fail. A recent publication by the British Crop Protection Council estimated that there are about 860 active compounds in current pesticides, belonging to more than 100 classes. Many of these are toxic, so regulatory authorities have set maximum residue limits (MRLs) for safety purposes, those of the EC ranging from several ppb to ppm.
Traditional methods for measuring the levels of pesticides in all types of foods involve extraction, purification and, in some cases, enrichment steps. These are generally followed by analysis using one of the hyphenated techniques such as GC/MS or LC/MS, often in tandem mass spectrometry mode. Although these methods are accurate with relatively low limits of quantification and detection, the often lengthy sample preparation and resultant extended analysis times are undesirable in quality control and testing laboratories.
These limitations have been tackled by Renato Zenobi and colleagues from the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences at ETH Zurich, who turned to a novel ambient mass spectrometry technique. Earlier in 2008, the development of the flowing afterglow atmospheric pressure glow discharge (APGD) source was announced by the group run by Gary Hieftje at Indiana University. Zenobi built a version of the source in his own lab and attached it to a quadrupole-time-of-flight mass spectrometer.
A glow discharge was generated in a helium flow at atmospheric pressure using a tungsten rod as cathode and a stainless steel plate as anode. Within the discharge, the metastable species and other excited species that were formed reacted with ambient air to produce protonated water clusters and radical cations such as NO+.. The clusters, in turn, ionised the analyte molecules in a chemical ionisation process.
In this instance, the system was tested for the analysis of 10 pesticides in food products. Apple, orange, cranberry and grape juices were diluted in water, spiked with the pesticides and droplets were added to filter paper. Similarly, salad leaves and small pieces of apple skin were washed before the pesticides were spotted onto small areas. There was no further treatment before the samples were placed between the source and the mass spectrometer inlet for analysis.
The pesticides, covering the carbamate, triazine, urea and organo-chlorine classes, were carbendazim, carbofuran, metolcarb, propoxur, alachlor, metolachlor, dinoseb, atrazine, simazine and isoproturon.
The mass spectra obtained with the APGD source were very similar to those obtained by electrospray ionisation, with strong protonated molecular ion peaks (except for alachlor which had a [M-CH3OH+H]+ peak). The tandem mass spectra recorded under the same collision-induced dissociation conditions were also similar for both ionisation processes. However, the fragment ion intensities tended to be higher with APGD, pointing to APGD being a more energetic ionisation than electrospray ionisation. The probable thermal loss of the CH3OH group from the alachlor molecule appears to support this deduction.
For identification, 9 of the 10 pesticides fulfilled the minimum requirement of three identification points laid down in the EC guidelines for quality control in pesticide analysis. They matched the protonated molecular ion plus two of the product ions, while the tenth pesticide, metolachlor, matched the protonated molecular ion and one product ion.
The limits of determination in the fruit juices ranged from 1 ng/mL (ppb) for metolcarb to 500 ng/mL for alachlor. The researchers were encouraged to find that the more complex nature of orange juice, due to the presence of fruit pulp, did not have any noticeable effects on these limits. For spiked apple skin, the limits of determination ranged from 0.01-5 ng, corresponding to 0.009-5.0 ppb. These values for juices and skin are well above the EU MRLs of 1-500 ¥ìg/kg (ppb) for pesticides in fruit juice and 0.01-5 ¥ìg/kg in apple skin.
Reproducibilities of APGD MS were in the region of 20% r.s.d., which is acceptable for screening purposes. They could be improved by adopting a more precise procedure for positioning samples in front of the source. First attempts at quantification in fruit juice did not produce linear calibration curves, with larger errors for higher pesticide concentrations. However, the team noted that it was still easy to determine the order of magnitude of the pesticide concentrations.
This relatively poor performance achieved in the early stages of development suggest that the technique could be used for initial screening to determine which batches of products would require more accurate examination, perhaps by LC/MS. This outcome is essential "for the control of the labelling of bio-/organic foods."
A revised source geometry might make it possible to analyse pesticides on whole fruits, rather than small strips of skin, with the potential for several sampling sites on a single fruit. Miniaturisation and mounting on a portable mass spectrometer would allow for pesticide control in the field.
However, the main advantages of the APGD MS method are the lack of sample preparation which speeds up the whole analysis process, and the good detection limits.
Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 2008, 22, 2791-2798: "Atmospheric pressure glow discharge desorption mass spectrometry for rapid screening of pesticides in food"
Article by Steve Down
The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

Irradiation And Consumer Acceptance
Christine Bruhn Ph.D., Director, Center for Consumer Research
Department for Food Science and Technology
University of California, Davis October 16, 2008
Source of Article: http://www.perishablepundit.com/
We have dealt a great deal with irradiation, including an extensive review of the state of the art which we entitled, Irradiation Kickstart. This piece followed up on the heels of FDA¡¯s Irradiation Ruling Puts FDA On The Spot, which announced FDA¡¯s approval of irradiation for use with iceberg lettuce and spinach. Although there are many technical issues with regard to irradiation ? what dose, what packaging, logistics, cost, etc. ? one of the key industry concerns is consumer acceptance of irradiated produce. To explore this subject more thoroughly we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more:

Q: What can you tell us about consumer acceptance of irradiated food?

A: We do research on consumer attitudes toward food safety and quality, and help to respond to consumer concerns, educate on the facts, and clear up misinformation.

Q: Have you done any studies related to fresh produce in particular?

A: Our main research on irradiation was done a couple years ago and related primarily to meat. We did have questions included about produce, related to availability of tropical fruits irradiated for disinfestation of pests rather than food safety applications. [Editor's note: you can read the full report here]

Q: Do you think your earlier research would be applicable to consumer acceptance of irradiated spinach and iceberg lettuce, now that the focus has been shifted and elevated from pest control to combating deadly pathogens?

A: The application of irradiation for something eaten raw is a new opportunity. While the research doesn¡¯t specifically address this, I can share my view of how people respond and would respond regarding irradiating food for food safety.

Q: What is our understanding on this issue?

A: Some are saying the public won¡¯t buy it. That is not the case. The public hasn¡¯t been given an opportunity. My work and that of other researchers over the last 20 years has found some people are ready to buy irradiated product right now. They want it, but complain that the grocery store hasn¡¯t offered it to them. This group of consumers represents maybe 10 percent of the population. At the other side of the spectrum, 10 percent of consumers are appalled by irradiation. They believe it makes the product less safe and less nutritious and wouldn¡¯t touch it with a 10-foot pole.

The majority of the population is in the middle. They don¡¯t know very much about irradiation, or how it would benefit them. When we share the science ? that it will increase safety but doesn¡¯t markedly affect taste or nutrition ? they are ready to buy it. They want to buy it. The goal is getting the correct information to the consumer.

Q: In your research, were consumers receptive to irradiating tropical fruit to provide more variety in the marketplace? If so, it seems they would be even more open to irradiation for improved food safety. What is your assessment?

A: In our study, we did ask questions about availability of certain imported tropical fruits like papaya and mango that consumers wouldn¡¯t have access to if not irradiated. That¡¯s purely a pleasure application, and consumer feedback toward irradiation was extremely positive. Great irradiated mangos were shipped into the U.S. last year. I¡¯ve had delicious irradiated mangos from India and Thailand. Mexico is revving up to ship irradiated mangos. It is just a matter of being sure all regulatory approvals are in place because this is a quarantine operation. More irradiated fruits will be appearing in supermarkets.

You¡¯re not cooking your iceberg lettuce. If consumers can appreciate irradiation in the form of pleasure, eating product that might not normally be available, it is not a leap to expect they will be even more enthusiastic about irradiation in the form of food safety, and they will have confidence they are serving their family safe product that is good for them.

Q: Since your research suggests the majority of consumers just need to know more information about the irradiation process to feel comfortable in purchasing the product, what communication efforts do you suggest, and by whom?

A: Having a grocery store put irradiated product on the shelves is an endorsement in and of itself. It is even better if the grocery store promotes it. Tell shoppers this is good for you. You¡¯re buying a value-added product that is safe and nutritious.

Q: Wegmans has been progressive in this regard, offering consumers its own brand of irradiated meat, but it seems to remain a niche product. Why hasn¡¯t it taken off?

A: Wegmans¡¯ irradiated ground beef is fresh, not frozen, which means they need high enough turnover. I see that as a good thing. They wouldn¡¯t carry irradiated beef if they weren¡¯t getting good reaction.

I believe it would be helpful for any introduction of irradiated product to have the health community stand up and support it. Inform consumers it adds further protection to their families, and it is labeled to distinguish it. When there is another food safety problem related to leafy greens, this product is a safe haven and will protect your health.

The percentage of contaminated produce is extremely small and a testament to the industry¡¯s food safety vigilance. Still, who wants to take the chance? The public expects safe product. This kill step means consumers can serve product with 100 percent confidence; it¡¯s the only way when dealing with raw fresh produce.

Q: What about quality issues? Is there still a learning curve on balancing the higher doses of irradiation needed for food safety with maximizing taste, texture, and nutritional content for commercial application?

A: Just like any other approach to handling food, you do it through preserving flavor and quality; depending on your techniques you can make beautiful toast or hunks of charcoal. Can it be done where irradiated products are indistinguishable in taste and texture from non-irradiated products and the nutrition is preserved? The answer is yes. Early literature showed problems. Don¡¯t look at studies done 15 or 20 years ago. Let¡¯s do it right and give consumers a choice.

Q: In contrast to your research, anti-irradiation groups, while relatively small in number, have been quite vocal in expressing concerns and trying to stop progress.

A: I believe statements Food and Water Watch makes are not supported by science. Nutritional damage and concerns about safety are not based on the facts. Recognized health authorities confirm this. CDC and FDA mandates require safety and nutritional value are considered before they grant approval. These anti-irradiation groups are expressing their philosophical views.

Q: Food and Water Watch claims that irradiation of foods produces furans, which are poisonous. Furans have been at issue in FDA¡¯s regulatory approval process of irradiated foods. Is there valid reason for concern?

A: Furan is a compound that can form in extremely small levels in foods that have sugar interacting with other compounds in the food matrix. Furans exist in canned goods and other foods as part of their composition. They are not hazardous. That¡¯s one myth this Food and Water Watch organization propagates. Spinach and lettuce don¡¯t even have furans.

Q: Is that one reason why FDA finally gave the OK for spinach and iceberg, but has delayed approval of irradiation for other types of foods like deli meats and ready-to-eat items?

A: The delay is for broader reasons. Deli meats cover a whole range of different foods, soy, milk powder, many different ingredients, etc. FDA wants to be sure it has investigated all the ingredients and how they interact with the irradiation process. In regards to fresh foods, FDA is assessing how many furans would be permissible before effects can be shown. The product needs a certain concentration of furans for there to be a safety concern. It would require consuming a heck of a lot of food.

Q: What challenges lie ahead?

A: The challenges I see are mainly logistical, first building the facilities. The ideal would be inline operations in Salinas and Arizona when production shifts seasonally. Companies want to test the concept with irradiation facilities already in place before building them into their own operations.

The issue of consumer acceptance of irradiated produce is something of a red herring:

First, right now no one is proposing irradiating all produce or even all spinach and iceberg lettuce. So it is not necessary to have 100% consumer endorsement. We have suggested initially pitching the product as a foodservice application to hospitals, senior citizen centers, assisted living facilities and other specialized places where consumers may have impaired immune systems.

Second, Dr. Bruhn is right on in saying that the key impediment in consumer acceptance of irradiated food is lack of availability. The meager research we have on this, which goes back to 1992 was when Carrot Top Market in Illinois and Lorenzo¡¯s Market in Florida sold irradiated strawberries. You can see some of the research results here. The comeuppance of this research was that when irradiated and non-irradiated product was sold side by side with appropriate educational literature, the irradiated product sold well.

The truth is that the vast majority of consumers are unlikely to know or to care. How many people who buy ground beef from Omaha Beef know they are buying irradiated product? How many know the ground beef at their local supermarket is not irradiated? The assumption in the US is that food sold commercially is safe. The very act of selling an item is an endorsement.

Third, because most consumers expect the food they buy at a supermarket to be safe, the biggest obstacle is that without inline irradiation ? that is to say as long as we have to take bags and truck them some place to irradiate ? irradiation will require a premium price. Now why exactly should consumers pay this premium if the product is already safe? On ground beef, Wegmans can wax poetic about rare hamburgers. Many enjoy raw chop meat. But what, exactly, is the argument for why consumers should pay more for irradiated spinach?

This is where the public health authorities come into the picture. The problem is this: They can¡¯t simultaneously say everything is perfectly safe and we have the safest food supply in the world but consumers should pay extra for irradiated spinach and iceberg lettuce. It is not a sound argument.

We would suggest that public health authorities start out by telling the industry that the FDA intends to issue a recommendation that hospitals, assisted living facilities, retirement homes, etc., should only serve irradiated ground beef, spinach and iceberg lettuce. This would assure the industry of a reasonable-size market.

A year after making its intent clear, the FDA should issue the recommendation.

Once this market is functioning, there will be spillover as some product will find its way to retail and other foodservice uses. Years of consumption in this specialized market will assuage any concerns that others might have on irradiation.

Long term we have to expect that this technology will be as common on high risk produce items as pasteurization is on milk.

Of course, consumers and restaurants need to be aware that irradiation does not protect against cross-contamination in a kitchen, food preparation workers with dirty hands or any risk after the product is irradiated. So vigilance is still required.

We have been fortunate to enjoy the low-key persuasiveness of Dr. Bruhn at many public presentations and a few private conversations. We thank her very much for sharing her perspectives with the industry on this important issue.

 


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