Advances in irradiation
Texas A&M University's Institute of Food Science & Engineering has said it has received a USDA grant to establish a centre for research into electron beam research.
Following increased interest in food safety and the need to solve the issues of food recalls due to foodborne disease, the USDA-CSREES gave final approval on 28 July to fund and establish a National Center for Electron Beam Food Research at Texas A&M University.
Based in Texas A&M's Institute of Food Science & Engineering is already renowned for its work in this field. The new centre will take this work one step further and will be dedicated to conducting research on electron beam technology for food and agricultural products, hosting industrial, academic and government research programs, and conducting outreach, training and education in the science & technology of electron beam irradiation.
The centre's work will research the benefits of electron beam technology to use electricity as an energy source for irradiating foods to kill dangerous microorganisms. "After more than 40 years of research, declared a safe food preservation process by FDA and supported specifically by American Medical Association, the Institute of Food Technologists, American Dietetic Association, the World Health Organisation and many other organisations - food irradiation is here to help fight foodborne disease," said Dr McLellan, director of the new centre.
Foods made safe by using electron beam food processing are already in the supermarket at both regional and national chains in the US. The technology is primarily focused now on ground beef and fresh poultry, two notable sources of food borne disease and food recalls.
Explaining the science, McLellan said: "We use the same system that dentists use - linear accelerators that create a stream of electrons that are transformed into x-rays to make an image of our teeth. For food the electrons are used directly to kill bad bacteria in our food that can make us sick."
The process is also being used to disinfest fruits and vegetables by killing insects dangerous to agricultural production through out the world. McLellan said: "This technology knocks down world trade barriers to sales and purchase across national borders without the fear of importing destructive insects. This electron beam process will give our farmers more opportunities to sell over seas and our consumers more opportunities to purchase fruit & vegetables grown internationally."
"Just as we would never go to the store to buy un-pasteurised milk today, the day is fast coming when we will not buy anything but safe irradiated ground beef and fresh poultry addressing food safety issues before they can make us sick," said Mclellan.
The research work carried out by the centre will be closely monitored by food safety experts in Europe where food irradiation is still largely outlawed. European authorities want to carry out more scientific research work into the process to verify its safety as several scientific research projects have indicated that the process may damage the chemical content of irradiated foods.
However, if the research work being carried out at the A&M University can convince experts in Europe that the process is safe then the centre's work could be pivotal to the more widespread implementation of the process in Europe.