FDA Action May Boost Confidence in Irradiation (254)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Federal approval of irradiation to kill harmful bacteria in beef may lead to broader consumer acceptance of the process, a University of Tennessee professor said Tuesday.

 The Food and Drug Administration Tuesday approved a three-year old petition to permit the irradiation of beef with Cobalt-60 gamma rays, which kills harmful bacteria such as E. coli in meat.

 Dr. Curtis Melton, a food scientist at UT-Knoxville, said the process does not affect its flavor, texture or nutritional value. Irradiation has been available for use on poultry, and other foods for several years.

 “The time is right, with the Hudson Foods hamburger recall and general awareness of food safety issues, for public acceptance of irradiation,” Melton said.

 He compared concerns expressed about irradiation to those of pasteurization of milk decades ago.

 “People worried that pasteurized milk might be harmful to them or that the process would destroy the milk’s nutritional value,” Melton said. “Some felt pasteurization was tampering with nature.”

Irradiating beef could add two to five cents per pound to the cost, but Melton said the payback is added safety and an extended shelf life. Grocers have been slow to stock irradiated foods for fear of undermining consumer confidence, he said.

 “I think the FDA’s action will reduce that concern. Nutritional labeling was slow to catch on until people decided it could give them a competitive advantage.”

 Melton said a more likely reason irradiated beef might be slow showing up on store shelves would be a temporary shortage of the equipment required for the process.

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 Contact: Dr. Curtis Melton (423-974-7265)