Three different irradiation technologies used to treat food have been developed by the sterilization industry. The time has come for more use in the meat and poultry industry.
IRRADIATION APPLICATION TO NOT READY TO EAT MEAT AND POULTRY PRODUCTS
The National Advisory Committee for Meat and Poultry Inspection (NACMPI) recently met to discuss and make recommendations to FSIS. One of the topics the committee members were charged with was Consideration of Mandatory Labeling Features for Certain Processed Not Ready to Eat Meat and Poultry Products. The issue was predicated by massive recalls on battered coated chicken product that is uncooked but yet appears to be cooked. There were recalls in 2006 and 2015. In 2015, there were two recalls with the last one involving an expansion. In 2015 alone, the recalls involved millions of pounds. Interestingly, in 2015, the product labels clearly stated the product is raw and/or needed cooking prior to consumption.
The final recommendations by the committee were numerous but each recommendation either directly or indirectly involved labeling; which we know by recent past experience is not the solution to the problem. (The committee cannot be faulted entirely. FSIS did restrict them to labelling only although they do have the prerogative to interject with other comments as they see fit.)
What about the use of irradiation technology as a solution to the problem?
Three different irradiation technologies used to treat food have been developed by the sterilization industry. They are gamma irradiation, electron beam irradiation and x-irradiation.
The high energy rays of irradiation directly damage the DNA of living organisms, inducing cross-linkages and other changes that make an organism unable to grow or reproduce.
Irradiation has been approved for use on a broad range of foods for different purposes. The use of irradiation on food is formally approved as though it were something added to food, rather than a process to which the food is subjected. This means that for meats and poultry, approval is required from both the FDA and USDA. The effect of irradiation on food itself is usually minimal. Treated food does not become radioactive, and, in general, shelf life is prolonged because organisms that cause spoilage are reduced along with pathogens. Irradiation has been used effectively in meats, poultry, grains, and produce. However, not all foods can be irradiated without changing their quality. Meats with a high fat content may develop off-odors; the whites of eggs may go milky and liquid; and grapefruit gets mushy. Alfalfa seeds do not seem to sprout as well if they are irradiated, and raw oysters may die, which shortens their shelf life substantially.
Nutritional and other chemical changes induced in food by irradiation have been studied extensively. In general, these changes are limited to modest declines in the quality and amount of a few vitamins, particularly thiamine (vitamin B1), that are not likely to change the overall adequacy of dietary intake.
The safety of consuming irradiated foods has been evaluated in large scale trials in animals, some of which lived for several generations. No ill effects were observed, and, in particular, no teratogenic effects were seen in mice, hamsters, rats or rabbits. Formal feeding trials were also conducted with human volunteers without ill effects, and NASA routinely uses irradiated meats in the diet of astronauts.
According to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) about 50% of the population is ready to buy irradiated foods, if asked. Acceptance will be greater if irradiated food is not much more expensive than nonirradiated food. The rate of acceptance can increase from 50% up to 80% to 90% if customers understand that irradiation reduces harmful bacteria in food.
Candidates for irradiation are, E. coli and Shiga toxin producing E. coli, (raw ground beef) Campylobacter and Salmonella (poultry) Listeria monocytogenes (RTE meats) and Toxoplasma gondii (parasite found in pork muscle). Irradiation would be specifically useful on raw battered poultry products.
Some people (well intended consumer groups) have objected to the use of irradiation because it might allow standards to slip in the food industry, substituting irradiation for other efforts to sanitize the food supply. Actually, combining irradiation with increased sanitation is advantageous because less contamination means lower doses of irradiation would be needed, decreasing the chance of changes in taste or smell of a product. This concern may not be fully resolved until the food industry demonstrates that irradiation is only used in concert with other methods that maintain food sanitation; similar to demonstrating excellent sanitation techniques working together with thermal processing in the production of fully cooked products.
Let’s approve the safe and accepted technology of irradiation as a process, eliminate the irradiation labeling symbol used on meat and poultry and solve the foodborne illness problems associated with raw battered chicken. The regulations need to be changed and then it would be incumbent upon industry to produce the safe consumer desired product.
NOTE: The CDC website was the source of the majority of the information in this website.
Another resource was the FSIS website.