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Unformatted text preview: III B A I] I t‘ \» NOTICE:_ This material may be protected by Copyright Law (Title 17, US. Code) by John Henkel Radiation shield Irradiation room Storage pool Control console Radiation source At a typical irraKdiation facility like the one above, an automated conveyor system moves products into a shielded room for irradiation treatment and then removes them. it employees need to enter the room, the radiation source is first lowered to a pool of water that absorbs the radiation and protects the workers. (Artwork courtesy of MDS Nerd/on Inc.) l2 / May-June 1998 / FDA Consumer A T I I] N A Safe Measure For Safer Food is one of the US. food industry’s hottest sell- ers—to the tune of 8 billion pounds a year, according to trade figures. Whether at a fast-food meal, a dinner on the town, or a backyard barbecue, beef is often front and cen- ter on America’s tables. But in recent years, beef, especially ground beef, has shown a dark side: It can harbor the bacte- rium E. coli 01572H7, a pathogen that threatens the safety of the domestic food supply. If not prop- erly prepared, beef tainted with E. coli 0157:H7 can make people ill, and in rare instances, kill Conveyor SVStem them. In 1993, E. coli 0157:H7-contaminated hamburgers sold by Eggggégfi a fast—food chain were linked to the deaths of four children and product hundreds of illnesses in the Pacific Northwest. In 1997, the potential extent of E. coli 01572H7 con— tamination came to light when Arkansas-based Hudson Foods Inc. voluntarily recalled 25 million pounds of hamburger suspected of containing E. coli 0157:H7. It was the largest recall of meat ,3 3 products in US. history. . .« .“323‘3‘3 I‘: . f3§$$g8$§1 g“ Nat1onally, E. 6011 01572H7 causes ‘ " ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ’Q‘:§‘:‘ “:::::“: 5“‘ ‘ .‘zgg , about 20,000 illnesses and 500 deaths a Loading unprocessed product year, according to the federal Centers for {NFOGRAPHJC BY SAM WARD FDA Consumer / May—June 1998 / 13 FDA’S approval of red meat irradiation adds to a lengthy list of foods approved for the process, including poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables, and dry spices. 14 / May—June l998 / FDA Consumer Disease Control and Prevention. Scien- tists have only known since 1982 that this form of E. coli causes human ill— ness. To help combat this public health problem, the Food and Drug Administra- tion last December approved treating red meat products with a measured dose of radiation. This process, commonly called irradiation, has drawn praise from many food industry and health organiza- tions because it can control E. coli 01572H7 and several other disease-caus- ing microorganisms. As with other regu- lations governing meat and poultry prod- ucts, irradiation will be authorized when the US. Department of Agriculture com- pletes its implementing regulations. Though irradiation is the latest step to- ward curbing food-borne illness, the fed- eral government also is implementing other measures, which include develop- ing new technologies and expanding the use of current technologies. A Long Safety Record FDA’s red meat approval added an- other product category to the already lengthy list of foods the agency has ap- proved for irradiation since 1963. These include poultry, fresh fruits and veg- etables, dry spices, seasonings, and enzymes. As part of its approval, FDA requires that irradiated foods include labeling with either the statement “treated with radiation” or “treated by irradiation” and the international symbol for irradiation, the radura (pictured above). Irradiation labeling requirements apply only to foods sold in stores. For example, irradi- ated spices or fresh strawberries should be labeled. When used as ingredients in other foods, however, the label of the other food does not need to describe these ingredients as irradiated. Irradia- tion labeling also does not apply to res- taurant foods. FDA has evaluated irradiation safety for 40 years and found the process safe and effective for many foods. Before ap- proving red meat irradiation, the agency reviewed numerous scientific studies conducted worldwide. These included research on the chemical effects of ra- diation on meat, the impact the process has on nutrient content, and potential toxicity concerns. In this most recent review and in pre— vious reviews of the irradiation process, FDA scientists concluded that irradiation reduces or eliminates pathogenic bacte- ria, insects and parasites. It reduces spoilage, and in certain fruits and veg- etables, it inhibits sprouting and delays the ripening process. Also, it does not make food radioactive, compromise nutri- tional quality, or noticeably change food taste, texture or appearance as long as it’s applied properly to a suitable product. Health experts say that in addition to reducing E. coli 0157:H7 contamina- tion, irradiation can help control the po- tentially harmful bacteria Salmonella and Campylobacter, two chief causes of food-borne illness. The Centers for Dis- ease Control and Prevention estimates that Salmonella—commonly found in poultry, eggs, meat, and milk— sickens as many as 4 million and kills 1,000 per year nationwide. Campylobacter, found mostly in poultry, is responsible for 6 million illnesses and 75 deaths per year in the United States. A May 1997 presi- dential report, “Food Safety from Farm to Table,” estimates that “millions” of Ameri- cans are stricken by food-home illness each year and some 9,000, mostly the very young and elderly, die as a result. FDA officials emphasize that though irradiation is a useful tool for reducing food-borne disease risk, it complements, but doesn’t replace, proper food han- dling practices by producers, processors and consumers. Limited Success So Far Though irradiation would appear to Many spices are irradiated, which eliminates the need for chemical fumigation to control pests. have much going for it, retail outlets have been slow to carry irradiated foods. This, experts say, is partially because many store owners and food producers fear consumers won’t buy the products based on misgivings about radiation in general. But some stores have plunged in any- way—with limited success. Carrot Top, a Chicago-area grocery market, was one of the first to carry irradiated fruits (see “Berry Successful Irradiation”). Owner Jim Corrigan says the products have been selling steadily since 1992. Other stores—mostly small, independent mar- kets—have followed suit, offering irradi- ated vegetables, fruits and poultry to a modest, but loyal, group of irradiation- savvy customers. Because irradiated red meat is not yet on the market, it remains to be seen if consumers will buy products such as ir- radiated ground beef—or if large food processors will even offer it. Irradiated products sold to date have cost slightly more than their untreated counterparts because of the extra step irradiation adds to food processing. But in the future, these costs could be offset by improved shelf life and increased consumer de- mand, according to food trade groups. Major food companies such as poultry processors, meat packers, and grocery chains have yet to embrace irradiation, not only because of perceived consumer attitudes, but also due to logistics. Food Technology Service Inc., in Mulberry, Fla., is the only irradiating facility dedi- cated solely to treating agricultural prod— ucts. More than 40 other facilities nation- wide primarily handle sterilization of medical supplies, though these plants also can irradiate food products. In fact, it was a New J ersey-based medical irradiation company, Isomedix Inc., that petitioned FDA to approve red meat irradiation. Beyond physical distances and lack of facilities, sheer product volume makes it unlikely that irradiation will be wide- Berry Successful Irradiation The huge sign hanging over the rows of boxed strawberries left little doubt for Chicago-area grocery shoppers that the produte before them was something new and unusual. Not that the berries looked any different. But the massive poster above them bore a message in mammoth letters that might as well have been neon: "Treated by irradiation for freshness and health.” To the store owner’s surprise, patrons flocked to the new product, buying nine times more of it than of standard straw- berries. That scene took place in 1992 at Carrot Top, one of the first retail stores to venture into the then—uncharted realm of irradiated foods. The decision to stock radiation-treated berries in the store, howeven'came slowiy. Owner Jim Corrigan spent about a year reading up on the irradiation process and passing details to his regular customers through periodic newsletters. He says informing customers before the store actually stocked the new products helped allay possible fears. When the Florida-grown strawberries finaliy arrived, along with irradiated oranges and grapefruits, shoppers were weli acquainted with the process and re- sponded with sales. Today, Corrigan remains enthusiastic. He says irradiation ensures that straw- berries will be free of insects and wili keep longer—in someycases, up to three weeks, versus three to five days for conventionalberries. "One of our ways of rating the freshness of strawberries is to examine the small hairs that grow by the seed,” he says. "if they are standing up and plenti- ful, the strawberries are still fresh. [With irradiated strawberries] we see a lot of that after three weeks.” The products remain steady sellers, and Corrigan has since added irradiated onions and papayas to his stock. I —-J.H. FDA Consumer / May—June 1998 / l5 Irradiating fOOd is similar to passing luggage through an airport scanner. spread anytime soon. The domestic poul- try trade, for instance, processes about 25 billion pounds per year, according to industry figures. Says Kenneth May, spokesman for the National Broiler Council, which represents poultry pro- ducers: “We think [irradiation is] a pro- cess that will work. But for practical pur- poses, we just don’t see anything happening with it in the near future.” He adds, however, that if the public really wants an irradiated product, the poultry industry will find a way to deliver it. Will Consumers Accept It? Before irradiation can really take off, the public must “warm up” to a method associated with nuclear energy, a source that carries its share of negative percep- tions. George Pauli, Ph.D., FDA’s food irradiation safety coordinator, compares irradiation to milk pasteurization, another decontaminating process that dramatically curbed disease but took de— cades before achieving public accep- tance. “When the public finally sees a need for irradiation and realizes its value, [think people will accept it. maybe even demand it.” Pauli says. “But you have to give them time.” A Louis Harris poll released in 1986 found that 76 percent of Americans con- sidered irradiated food a hazard. But later studies have shown that consumer attitudes can be changed through education. In 1995, researchers at the University of Georgia reported that 87.5 percent of consumers had heard of irradiation but knew little about it. So the university set up a “simulated supermarket setting” and labeled irradiated products, put post- ers at the point of sale, and developed a slide show explaining irradiation. “Our goal was to see which one of those tech- niques was most effective in changing people’s attitudes,” says Kay McWatters, agricultural research scientist and one of the study authors. The study found that any kind of edu- cation helps convey the benefits of irra- diation, McWatters says. “But the one that turned out most effective was the 16 / May—June 1998 / FDA Consumer Approved Uses of Irradiation FDA opprOVoci‘the‘iirstusogofgir ’d' tion on a food product in i963 when it al- lowed radiatiowtreated wheat an wheat-itemidbe'markeied. in approving a use of radiation, the maximum radiation dose the product can be ex- posed to, measured in tin led yiéiloGroy The following _ is a listoi all approved uses of radiation on foods to date, the purpose for irradiating them, and the radiation?" : Food , Approved Use Dose Spices and dry vegetable decontaminates and controls 30 kGy seasoning 9 * insects and microorganisms Dry or dehydrated- controls insects and 10 kGy enzyme preparations microOrgonisms All foods ' controls insects: i kGy Fresh Foods delays maturation l kGy Poultry controls disease-causing 3 kGy microorganisms Red meat controls spoilage and 4.5 kGy (fresh) (such as beet, disease-causing 7 kGy (frozen) lamb and pork) microorganisms slide show, because visual images and [narration] are much more attention-get- ting than just a static label or poster.” After the study’s education strategy, about 84 percent of participating consum- ers said irradiation is “somewhat neces— sary” or “very necessary.” Fifty-eight per- cent said they would always buy irradiated chicken if available, and 27 percent said they would buy it sometimes. Another study in 1997 by the Food Mar- keting Institute had similar results. After receiving education about the process, 60 percent of those in the study said they would buy irradiated foods. Carrot Top owner Corrigan also discov- ered this on a small scale after sending his regular customers information about irra- diation in periodic newsletters. Luggage and Milk Other studies, however, show that many consumers still question if irradia- tion is safe. They wonder if the process transfers radiation to the product or if it causes chemical changes in the food that might be hazardous. Even the word “irradiation” is scary to some, carrying images of atomic explosions or nuclear reactor accidents. RCIdiOIYfiC products, formed when food is irradiated, are similar to those formed by cooking food. FDA has found them to be safe. But as long as radiation is applied to foods in approved doses, it’s safe, says FDA’s Pauli. Similar to sending luggage through an airport scanner, the process passes food quickly through a radiation field—typically gamma rays produced from radioactive cobalt-60. That amount of energy is not strong enough to add any radioactive material to the food. The same irradiation process is used to steril- ize medical products such as bandages, contact lens solutions, and hospital sup- plies such as gloves, sutures and gowns. Many spices sold in this country also are irradiated, which eliminates the need for chemical fumigation to control pests. American astronauts have eaten irradi- ated foods since 1972. Irradiation is a “cold” process that gives off little heat, so foods can be irra- diated within their packaging and re- main protected against contamination until opened by users. Because a few bacteria can survive the process in poul- try and meats, it’s important, Pauli says, to keep products refrigerated and to cook them properly. Irradiation interferes with bacterial ge- netics, so the contaminating organism can no longer survive or multiply. Al- though chemicals called radiolytic prod- ucts are created when food is irradiated, FDA has found them to pose no health hazard. In fact, the same kinds of prod- ucts are formed when food is cooked. Praises and Protests Though irradiation has its share of de- tractors, many prestigious organizations endorse it, including the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the American Medical Association, and the American Dietetic Association. Trade groups such as the National Meat Association, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, and the National Food Processors Association also support irradiation. However, some groups have given ir- radiation a thumbs down. Consumer ac— tivist Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Pure Food Campaign, says more atten- Radiation’s Positive Side Scientists first studied radiation as a way to improve food products in the 19305, but research didn’t begin in earnest until just after World War it. At that time, the US. Army was seeking a means to lessen dependence on refrigeration and replace K rations and other preserved products that troops used in the field. in the early l950s, the Atomic Energy Commission (now part of the US. Department of Energy) explored food irradiation as part of President Eisenhower’s "Atoms for Peace” program. This research differed from the Army's in that it examined the effects smaller radiation doses had on cer- tain fruits and vegetables. The end result was not a sterile product but one where insects would be killed or sterilized. Because this produce still could spoil, refrigeration was needed. But at least potentially harmful insects would not cross state or national borders. Such research, augmented by studies from other countries, established that the most important benefit from irradiation could be the control of dis- ease-causing pathogens and that the maximum practical and effective dose depended on the food and the purpose for irradiating. I --J.H. tion should be placed on raising healthier livestock, which he says would reduce pathogens and make irradiation unnecessary. The Center for Science in the Public Interest calls irradiation “ex- pensive” and “an end-of—the-line solu- tion to contamination problems that can and should be addressed earlier.” But with so many influential organiza- tions backing irradiation, along with concerns about rising numbers of dis- ease cases, the stage is set for the pro- cess to pick up momentum, despite negative sentiments, supporters say. First, however, says FDA’s Pauli, the food industry needs to get more irradi— ated products into the marketplace. “Most people in this country haven’t even seen an irradiated food,” he says. “When products start appearing, then the public can make up its mind.” I John Henkel is a stafiwriterfor FDA Consumer. FDA Consumer / May—June 1998 / i7 ...
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