Green light for irradiation?

Related tags Ground beef Food Food irradiation

Institutional investors are starting to weigh the cost-benefits of
irradiating ground beef, poultry and other foods.

Institutional investors are starting to weigh the cost-benefits of irradiating ground beef, poultry and other foods for food service providers, foodprocessors and food retailers, according to a leading adviser in the US.

Dr Mark McLellan, director of theInstitute of Food Sciences & Engineering at Texas A&M University andPresident of the Institute of Food Technologists made the comments at an educational seminar on food irradiation at the NationalRestaurant Association Show at McCormick Place, Chicago.

McLellan said that financial investors' interest in food irradiationis a new development, even as recent as the last six months, based oninquiries he's received at the Institute of Food Sciences & Engineering.

"The impetus is due to the 66 recalls for listeria or E.coli-contaminatedbeef, pork and poultry in 2002, totalling approximately 60 million pounds ofmeat, or nearly three times as much as in the prior year,"​ McLellan said.

"The largest of these recalls involved about 27 million pounds ofproduct and cost $81 million (€68.7m), not including litigation costs,"​ McLellansaid.

"By contrast, Dairy Queen, one of the restaurant industry leaders inintroducing irradiated hamburgers, estimates its costs for irradiated groundbeef at 7 cents a pound. For the same amount of product, that would equateto $1.9 million, or 2.4 per cent of the cost of the largest recall. It's nowonder then that financial lenders and insurers are taking a closer look atirradiation,"​ McLellan added.

"The primary drivers of food irradiation have always been theconsumer benefits of food safety, through prevention of illnesses anddeaths, and offering consumers a choice,"​ McLellan said. "Additionally,there has always been the litigation issue, understanding that protection ofconsumers equates to protection of the company. Now, there's a secondeconomic driver: the availability of investment capital for expansion andgrowth."

While the retail sector of the food industry has led the way withirradiated product introductions, especially over the past year, McLellanforesees an acceleration of irradiated foods in the restaurant and foodservice industries, especially with the recent USDA provision for offeringirradiated ground beef through the School Lunch Program. "Public educationwill demystify the technology and lead to greater acceptance,"​ he said.

Calling irradiation "a pillar of public health,"​ McLellan said,"Just as there are few places today that sell unpasteurised milk, the samewill be true in a few years for raw ground beef."

The Institute of Food Science and Engineering, part of the Texas A&MUniversity System​, brings together more than 140 faculty from multipleacademic disciplines to solve complex problems in the food industry. SinceIFSE's beginning in 1990, research by its scientists has resulted inadvances such as better diagnostic tools to detect E.coli and Salmonella;enhanced foods with cancer-fighting nutrients; and new process technologiesto enhance value of foods.

An Electron Beam Food Research Facility (EBFRF) at the Institutereceived authority in October 2002 by the United States Department ofAgriculture (USDA) to process foods and other non-food products. Not onlycommercial food products are being processed, but also research activitiesapplying irradiation technology on foods and non-foods are ongoing.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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