The US government's food safety leader, Elsa Murano, has said that despite irradiation being an effective way to maintain the safety of meats, companies are still slow on the uptake because the system often remains prohibitively expensive to implement.
"I think it is more cost-effective for there to be a central irradiation location that they (meat plants) can send the product to," Murano told a Reuters reporter.
In recent year several large scale recalls of tainted meat in both the US and internationally have increased the need to push the issue of food safety. Consequently both governments and food manufacturers have been trying to find more effective solutions to avoid bacteria or fungus causing illness.
Food irradiation is largely outlawed in Europe, where the EC is awaiting more conclusive evidence of its effects. However, in the US the FDA has approved the irradiation of meat and other fresh foods in an attempt to make foods safer.
What has proved to be the biggest hurdle in the widespread implementation of the system in the US is its cost. Food irradiation is expensive for companies to implement because the technology is still relatively new and the machinery is relatively complicated to construct and implement. Meat industry sources estimate that less than 5 per cent of meat in the US is currently irradiated, largely due to costs.
"Cost-effectiveness is very important to them right now," said Murano at last week's First World Congress on Food Irradiation.
To get round the expense of implementation many meat companies have been sending off meats to be irradiated off-site by leading food irradiation companies such as Surebeam. But this has also proved to be expensive, with the costs ultimately being passed on to consumers.
The FDA and USDA have now approved irradiation for ground beef, chicken, and pork, as well as fruits and vegetables, herbs, spices and wheat flour.
"Irradiation is so effective as a single step that to accomplish the same thing you would have to have several technologies that we have now to reduce pathogens," Murano told Reuters.
Murano's words coincided with the release of Surebeam's quarterly financial results which revealed that, although still a very small industry, it is definitely starting to show strong growth. Surebeam's turnover for its food safety division had increased 17 per cent to $309,000 (€266,566) up from $263,000 the previous quarter.