Food Irradiation Updates

Published by Ronald F. Eustice and sponsored  by GRAY*STAR Inc.
January 2016
Food Irradiation Update is published monthly by Ronald F. Eustice, a food quality & safety assurance consultant based in Tucson, Arizona. He can be reached at:
and at 612.202.1016
As we begin 2016, we can reflect upon the success we have had in expanding consumption of food that has been irradiated. New irradiation facilities are being constructed in many countries, especially where huge amounts spoil before they reach the public. Irradiation is a multi-purpose technology that increases food safety by killing dangerous bacteria, eliminating harmful pests, extending shelf life and more. Consumer acceptance and awareness is increasing rapidly. One of the most common questions that I hear is "if this technology is so good, why isn't it used more often?" The volume of irradiated food will increase as the public gains a greater understanding of what the technology is (and what it is not). We look forward to a good year for food irradiation.  Happy New Year! 
Featured Article: Food Irradiation Highlights of 2015; By Ronald F. Eustice
The year 2015 was a good year for food irradiation. Here is a recap of some of the most important events that made it an exciting year.
On 8 January 2015, Australia-based Steritech received approval from the USDA to begin export of tropical fruit to the USA. The list of fruits and vegetables being irradiated in Australia is impressive and expanding rapidly. Australian Food Regulators FSANZ, have now approved 23 commodities for irradiation; tomato, capsicum, table grape, cherry, strawberry, zucchini, nectarine, rock melon, honeydew, apricot, apple, peach, plum and tropical fruits (mango, lychee, papaya), for both the Australian domestic and New Zealand market. Australian exports of irradiated produce to New Zealand have grown steadily since 2006 and have set new records every year except one when poor weather nearly wiped out the crop. The expansion into the US market in 2015 was a huge step forward for irradiation.
Irradiation of fresh oysters continued to move forward at Gateway America in Gulfport, Mississippi.With Vibrio cases on the rise, irradiation appears more attractive each day. The CDC's most recent Food Safety Progress Report, saw a 75 percent increase in cases in 2013 compared to 2006-2008, and a 32 percent increase compared to 2010-2012 in the United States. 
Two Australian growers sent the first consignment of mangoes just as the season was wrapping up, to be received by two US importers. 700 trays arrived in the US in February. Consumer acceptance was outstanding.
Mexican fresh fig exporters became eligible to ship their fruit to the continental U.S., under the condition the produce is treated with irradiation. The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced the decision March 30.
On May 30 over 2.1 tons of lychees were taken straight from Noi Bai, Vietnam International Airport to Ho Chi Minh City for irradiation and quality quarantine before being exported to the US
From June 12 to 19, twelve tons of lychees from the Red Dragon Company in Vietnam arrived in Melbourne, Australia, while one ton from the Thien Anh Minh Company and 3.5 tons from the Anh Sao Duong Company found their way to Sydney. After 12 years of negotiations it's expected that Australian importers will sign larger contracts and greater opportunities will open up for Vietnamese lychees in the country. 
The first shipment was 257 kilograms of Mexican fresh figs that were irradiated arrived in the US. The first figs sent came from the Mexican states of Morelos and Puebla. Following the first shipment, a second load of 628 kilograms of fresh figs was sent. In July 2015, there were 200 hectares of fig production in Mexico, mostly in Morelos, Baja California Sur, Puebla and Hidalgo. That acreage could increase should Mexican exporters find success with subsequent shipments. Current national production is estimated at just over 6,000 tonnes of figs valued at about US$3 million.
Rosatom State Corp of Russia picked up a 51 per cent stake in Tamil Nadu-based Gamma Tech India Private Ltd. to jointly implement a project that aims to set up a network of radiation sterilization centers across India. The centers to be developed by Rusatom Overseas JSC will offer food decontamination and sterilization of medical products by ionizing radiation, including sterilization of medical products such as latex gloves, decontamination of fruit, berries and other products exported from India to developed countries.
The centers will be constructed in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The pilot center will be built in Tamil Nadu. This is the first such major intervention by a foreign government nuclear utility in India, one of the largest food producers in the world with about 600 million tonnes of food products generated every year.
The irradiation center of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Lasalgaon, about 70km from Nashik, India irradiated a record 328 metric tonnes of mangoes for export to the US in the 2015 mango season. The center had treated 295 metric tonnes of mangoes in the same period last year. 
Vietnam lychee exports were expected to reach US$2 Billion in 2015, a record level.
In August, an outbreak of oriental fruit flies was discovered in southern Florida. This is the largest outbreak in Florida's history. More than 85 acres of crops have been quarantined and the livelihood of hundreds of farmers has been threatened. The outbreak has the potential to seriously impact Florida's $1.6 billion agriculture industry. Florida growers used irradiation at Gateway America to help mitigate the Florida quarantine.
The Director General of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), Professor B.J.B. Nyarko, recommended that Ghana adopt the irradiation process in agriculture to reduce post-harvest losses and improve quality of food products for the domestic and export markets. Prof. Nyarko said this at a collaborative forum in Accra between the GAEC and the Agona Swedru Municipal Assembly (ASMA). The parties at the forum signed an agreement for an initiative of a gamma radiation facility by GAEC in the Agona Swedru municipality.
Chipotle E. coli and Norovirus outbreak made headlines. Things aren't good for Chipotle: E. coli in Seattle, Salmonella in Minnesota, Norovirus in California and E. coli O26 and in at least 9 states. To date, fifty-three people have been infected with the outbreak strain of STEC O26. The majority of illnesses have been reported from Washington and Oregon during October 2015. The number of ill people reported from each state is as follows: California (3), Illinois (1), Maryland (1), Minnesota (2), New York (1), Ohio (3), Oregon (13), Pennsylvania (2), and Washington (27).
The epidemiologic evidence available at this time suggests that a common meal item or ingredient served at Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants in several states is a likely source of this outbreak. The investigation has not identified what specific food is linked to illness. A total of 47 (88%) of 53 ill people interviewed reported eating at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in the week before their illness started. Of course Chipotle does not believe in irradiation, however experts agree that routine use of irradiation on certain raw foods could have saved them much heartache and millions of dollars of lawsuits. Chipotle stock has dropped to its lowest level ever since the outbreak. The saga continues. Perhaps Chipotle will learn that "locally sourced," organic and other buzz words doesn't make food safer.
During the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit in Atlanta Paul Catania owner of Ontario, Canada-based Catania Worldwide said he plans to double its Mexican fig imports in 2015-16 and the US is the target market. He said the figs all will be irradiated to meet US phytosanitary requirements and first shipments would be ready in late November with the campaign carrying through to the end of April.The deal marks the first full season of Mexican figs for the U.S. market since the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) approved them for market entry in late March.
Bolivia announced plans to initiate a US$300 million project would include a nuclear reactor. The El Alto nuclear complex near La Paz will include a research reactor, built with Russian technology and help from Argentina. Bolivia's President Morales said the center will also include a cyclotron for radiopharmaceuticals and a multi-purpose gamma irradiation plant.  
South African avocado exports reached some 12.7m cartons of avocados for the season. Many of these were irradiated.
South Africa's Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced that in December the first air shipment of litchis was exported to the United States. This achievement is viewed as one of the major contributions on the country's initiative of expanding export markets, positioning South Africa as one of the significant exporters in the world. The fruit was packed at Riverside in Mpumalanga and landed in Atlanta, irradiated at Gateway in the US and then trans-shipped to the relevant agents in US. "The feedback received was most encouraging and sales are reported to be going well, with the first commercial orders now being placed," the department said. In 2014, South Africa's litchi industry recorded a contribution of approximately 2,390 jobs, both direct and indirect and about R120 million to the gross value income.
MYTH of the MONTH: "Irradiation destroys essential vitamins and other nutrients." By Russell Stein
Irradiation destroys essential vitamins and other nutrients.

This statement is incorrect. Although irradiation can reduce some vitamins and other nutrients, it does not destroy them nor significantly alter the amount of nutrients relative to the total diet of the consumer. 

Food treated by irradiation is generally as nutritious as, or better than, the same food treated by the conventional familiar processes such as cooking, drying, or freezing. Numerous studies conclude that irradiation has no significant effect on the nutritional value of the macronutrients within foods (proteins, lipids, carbohydrates). Micronutrients, especially certain vitamins, can be reduced by irradiation, but generally these same vitamins are similarly reduced by the other commonly used food processing methods. Even simple storage can lead to major loss of certain vitamins.

The significance of any loss of specific vitamins must be evaluated relative to the role of the irradiated food as a source of that particular vitamin in the diet of the consuming public. This consideration is heavily weighted by the regulatory agencies in their evaluation of petitions for clearance to irradiate any food. The FDA, World Health Organization and the American Dietetic Association have all considered the nutritional aspects of irradiated food and endorsed the process.

An excellent argument can be made that by destroying pathogens in raw food, irradiation will allow safer consumption of these foods and increase their overall nutritional value. On August 22, 2008, the FDA approved the use of irradiation on fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce. Their safety review specifically addressed the effects of irradiation on vitamins and nutrients on products often consumed raw. On February 25, 2014 they reaffirmed their conclusion that food irradiation is nutritionally safe:

"In summary, based on the available data and information, FDA concludes that amending the regulations, as set forth below, to allow for the use of ionizing radiation to treat iceberg lettuce and spinach up to a maximum dose of 4 kGs.
Link to article ... 

Russell Stein 
Also in the News: Sixth Annual Chapman Phytosanitary Conference (March 23-24, 2016):

Sponsored by Chapman University, the USDA and the FAO/IAEC at offered at NO CHARGE.
To register or learn more about the conference click here ...

Australian mango growers ready for major shipments to US; Fresh Plaza; (December 16, 2015): 
Australian mango producers expect strong exports to USA.
All Australian mangoes must be irradiated to enter the US.

Australian mango growers and exporters are sending their first big shipments to the US this season, with plans to export between 100 and 200 tonnes in the coming months.

This compares to the first export season in February 2015, which saw 5.5 tonnes of mangoes shipped to the US from two growers.

The Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry & Fisheries Market Development Officer, Michael Daysh, says there have been significant developments in the market since February, with more growers achieving approval to export to the US and more exporters signing up.

"This season we're looking at about 20 growers that have been approved, but they may not all ship straight away," he says. "We had two exporters last [season] and seven this time."

Mr Daysh says the response to the initial shipments was positive, with both of the importers that were previously involved again developing programs with their customers.

"I think that speaks for itself," he says.

A number of mango varieties will be exported this season, including Kensington Pride, R2E2, Calypso, Honey Gold and Keitt, across a range of sizes.

"Australian fruit has a different flavour profile to fruit from other countries and so we anticipate that marketers will be looking to reach out to   premium consumers, knowledgeable about mangoes and Australia, who are looking for new and different mango flavours," he says.
While Australian mango growers have had some complications this season due to late flowers, Mr Daysh says the shipments to the US shouldn't impact the domestic market this year.

"It's 100-200 tonnes within an industry of about 60,000 tonnes," he says. "As export grows, we hope growers will grow more fruit [to meet demand]."

"In the first instance it gives growers a different market option. As more growers get involved, the shipment volume can increase, and once the growers are confident in the market, we would expect that they will probably increase production."

The first shipments to the US left Australia in early December.
All mangoes to the US will be irradiated by third-party plants prior to export in accordance with USDA requirements, with Brisbane-based company Steritech the only Australian irradiation facility to currently have approval from the US.

Mr Daysh says export to the US started eight weeks earlier than last, with the first  shipment 9th December.
Link to article ...
South Africa exports first air shipment of litchis to USA;
AfricaBrains (December 10, 2015)
South Africa considers the first air shipment of lychees to the US as a major achievement. The lychees were irradiated at Gateway America, Gulfport, Mississippi.
Pretoria - The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has announced that South Africa has earlier this month exported its first air shipment of litchis to the United States.

"The department views this achievement as one of the major contributions on the country's initiative of expanding export markets, positioning South Africa as one of the significant exporters in the world.

"This achievement will enhance socio-economic growth as stipulated in, among others, the National Development Plan and the Strategic Plan of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries," the department said in a statement on Tuesday.

The department said the shipment was the result of a partnership with the relevant government departments and the litchi industry who negotiated for market access with the US and ensured South Africa was able to meet the US import requirements and regulations.

The fruit was packed at Riverside in Mpumalanga and landed in Atlanta, irradiated at Gateway in the US and then transhipped to the relevant agents in US.

"The feedback received was most encouraging and sales are reported to be going well, with the first commercial orders now being placed," the department said.

In 2014, the litchi industry recorded a contribution of approximately 2 390 jobs, both direct and indirect and about R120 million to the gross value income.

The department said the litchi industry had the potential to grow supported by the continuous production of healthy and safe fruit that will continue to position South Africa as a key player in the export market.

Compliance with phytosanitary market access requirements and other related measures is key to sustaining this export market.

Chairperson of the South African Litchi Growers' Association (SALGA) Market Access Committee Don Westcott said the litchi industry was hoping to have more commercial consignments being airfreighted out to the USA this season.

"We welcome the continued support from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and our government in particular. This was really a great collective effort and a special success story for our industry,'' said Westcott

The department expressed appreciation to farm workers, growers, leadership of relevant associations, transportation, agents and plant inspectors to packhouses, as well as the Perishable Products Export Control Board and other relevant departments for making the shipment possible.
Irradiated papaya has high shelf life; By K.S. Parthasarathy; The Hindu (January 4, 2016):
Scientists in India are using irradiation to make papaya a "super fruit" by extending shelf-life.
MUMBAI: Some specialists feel that the terms "super fruits" and "super foods" are used by marketing gurus as promotional gimmicks. The topic became so exciting that in July 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization organized an International Symposium on Super fruits: Myth or Truth, "to determine whether there were nutritional and agronomical evidence to support the claim of a fruit (species and varieties) being a "super fruit" and whether these were adequate to provide a definition".

One of the papers at the symposium referred to the humble papaya as "super food for the skin". Most super fruits, including papaya have short shelf-lives. Scientists from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) have developed notable processing methods to make papaya a high shelf life super-food.

They noted that papaya fruit is highly perishable resulting in around 25 per cent postharvest loss which is further enhanced during storage and transportation. They developed a novel combination technology including osmotic dehydration, blanching and infrared drying to make intermediate moisture (IM) papaya cubes to prevent these losses.

They further hygienised these cubes after packing them and exposing them to a gamma radiation dose of 2 kGy. (Gy, a unit of radiation dose, represents energy absorption of one joule per kg; kGy is 1000 Gy). In their study, they packed the intermediate moisture (IM) papaya cubes (20 pieces; approx. 50 g/packet) in low density polythene packets. Radiation processing helps to reduce the microbial load.

Believe it or not, the final product could be stored up to 60 days at ambient temperature. The unprocessed freshly cut samples get spoiled within 2 days!

Scientists secured other benefits. They demonstrated that processed IM cubes showed nearly 5-fold increase in calorific value; the per unit dry weight content of carbohydrate, protein, fibre, and functional bioactives such as ascorbic acid, carotenoids, and phenolics including flavonoids were found to increase significantly.

Researchers quantitatively demonstrated that the functional properties in terms of antioxidant capacity and antimutagenic potential were improved in the final product. Writing in Food Bioscience journal (Feb 25, 2015) they concluded that they could control the postharvest losses of this highly perishable fruit by transforming it into a more stable product.

"The developed product was found to be microbiologically safe and showed better nutrient content per unit mass with respect to the fresh fruit, and therefore enhanced functional properties." They added.

The authors listed many interesting facts about papaya. Annual production of the fruit worldwide is about 11 million tons (t). India produces about 4.7 million tons. Our export is a measly 18,000 t! According to the scientists, the major reason for the marginal export is the highly perishable nature of the fruit, which is often susceptible to fungal attack during storage and transportation. The fruits need tender care in handling. . The softness that occurs during ripening of the fruit further accelerates the spoilage. Papaya has to be preserved at the right temperature. Storage below 10 degree Celsius causes chilling injury to the fruit.

According to the National Horticulture Board, the economic life of the papaya plant is only 3 to 4 years. Papaya plant needs heavy doses of manures and fertilizers. In one estimate, the NHB showed that the break-even point is reached in the 3{+r}{+d}year. Such considerations do come in while evaluating the financial viability of papaya cultivation.

My queries revealed that the most important aspect in the cost effectiveness of the BARC technology is that it provides a mechanism to reduce the post-harvest losses. Secondly, it makes available a convenient ready-to-eat (RTE), ambient storable, and microbiologically safe papaya cubes to the consumers. Thirdly, the product is of high calorific and nutritional value on dry weight basis compared to the raw ripe papaya.

Evidently, these attributes can compensate for the seemingly non-negligible processing cost. Also, it can provide a useful technology which will benefit the papaya farmers in due course.

The public unhesitatingly buys the insipid noodles, pastas and pizzas; they often get carried away by telling advertisements and even endlessly long controversies! It is surprising that they do not even look benignly at the genuinely nutritious products such as the papaya cubes which could be produced by the BARC technology.
Link to article ...
South Africa litchi production bolstered by success in US market; Fresh Fruit Portal (January 4, 2016):
South Africa is gearing up to be a major producer of litchis.
The week of January 4th saw the last litchi shipment transported to Mississippi following a South African export campaign that started at the beginning of December, 2015.

This was the first time the South African litchi sector has supplied the U.S. market, following long negotiations for market access. One of the conditions stipulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) includes irradiation treatment to eliminate certain pests and insects.

If the U.S. market continues to grow, South African farmers will be keen to expand plantings to keep pace with demand, according to South African Subtropical Growers' Association (Subtrop) CEO Derek Donkin. "We're about halfway through the season at the moment, but in terms of exports to the U.S. we are nearing the tail end of the campaign which has seen smaller airfreight shipments going over to the U.S. and generally it's gone extremely well," he tells
"Right now the volumes have been relatively low, with a low tonnage because this was the first season for the U.S.

"Production has been fairly stable for the last decade but I think with the opening up of new markets such as the U.S. there will be opportunity for people to expand plantings and it's likely that if that market grows, people who currently farm litchis would expand their operations to supply the U.S. market."

Donkin says Europe has historically been South Africa's key market, but getting into the U.S. ahead of competitor countries like Madagascar is what will drive the production growth. "Our strategy to open new markets is so that the industry can grow in South Africa. Ordinarily the major export market for many years has been Europe but getting into the U.S. is so important because it provides us with another opportunity and is a very large market in terms of its potential.

"Obviously litchis are not very well known in the U.S. but there is definitely potential to grow and at the moment our major competition in Europe is Madagascar and, as far as I know, it doesn't supply the U.S. "Logistically it's probably easier for us to go to the U.S. but the more options we have as an industry the better because it's not a good idea to have all your eggs in one basket, so diversification is sensible."
Currently there are approximately 1,700 hectares under production in north eastern regions of South Africa.

"Generally these regions are warmer and frost free and because litchis are a tropical fruit, we grow it in subtropical conditions and this is where the climatic conditions are most suitable for litchi production. We as an association were more involved on the technical side of brokering the U.S. market access, and working together with the USDA to get the right things in place for the irradiation treatment which is now the accepted phytosanitary treatment which allows us access to the U.S."

"It's early days but initial reports have been good in terms of the quality and the returns that have been received on some of the consignments, so I think there is definitely huge potential for expansion in the future.
Irradiated 'gulaman' can help boost Philippine rice production   (January 5, 2015)
Seaweed extracts with a little tweak of gamma irradiation can increase rice production by about a third and guard against major pests. 
MANILA: Scientists at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) have developed the carrageenan plant food supplementor (CPFS), which is derived from carrageenan extracted from red edible seaweeds. Carageenan-known locally as "gulaman"-is widely used for its gelling, thickening and stabilising properties in the food industry and as a binder in toothpaste and shampoo.

In a study published in Radiation Physics and Chemistry this January, the PNRI scientists showed that carrageenan-derived polysaccharide, a carbohydrate, enhances rice growth when degraded through a "very small dose" of gamma radiation.

Plant food supplements are substances that improve the overall health, growth and development of plants, says lead researcher Lucille Abad, chief of PNRI's chemistry research section.

The agricultural benefits of carrageenan are achieved from its building blocks: the long-chain carrageenan polymer that can be broken down into shorter chain fragments known as oligomers ("oligo" for few), Abad explains. These oligomers are readily absorbed by the plant to help their growth and development and also improve their resistance to diseases.

"Using gamma radiation, we were able to cut up the polymer into oligomers without using chemicals or complicated and expensive processes," she says. "CPFS can be made with nothing more than the organic carrageenan and water processed by gamma radiation. The product that is formed is not and can never be radioactive. It is a clean and additive-free method that is safe, non-toxic, environment friendly and, most of all, effective."

Abad says the CPFS formulations will be registered with the Philippines' Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority as soon as results are verified from field trials in around 37,000 hectares nationwide for two planting seasons. Once adopted by farmers, the new technology may boost rice production by at least 30 per cent. However, in one experiment in Bulacan province which is near Metro Manila, results showed a 65 per cent increase.

Gil Magsino, a scientist at the National Crop Protection Center and who headed the field trials conducted in Bulacan says three bags of chemical fertiliser per hectare combined with 200 parts per million or 20 milliliters per litre of CPFS yielded higher rice grain weight of 450 grams per 10 hills (mound of soil that is planted with seeds).

In contrast, conventional farmers' practice of applying nine bags of chemical fertiliser per hectare yields a grain weight of only 275 grams per 10 hills.
Abad and her research team first tested the CPFS in pot experiments inside greenhouses at PNRI. Various concentrations were sprayed on the leaves of rice. Results showed rice stems and the length of the panicles that bear the grains were significantly higher in the test crops compared with conventional crops. CPFS also induces resistance against rice tungro virus and bacterial leaf blight, both major rice pests.

The CPFS was also sprayed on Chinese cabbage, mungbean and peanut, resulting in a product yield of as much as 200-300 per cent in the vegetables.
"Apparently, spraying the CPFS enhanced the presence of friendly insects such as ladybird beetles and spiders that help control harmful insects like the brown plant hoppers and green leaf hoppers," Abad notes. is an excellent source of information on food irradiation.

Food Irradiation Update is published by Ronald F. Eustice and sent to you through the sponsorship of GRAY*STAR, Inc., the manufacturer of the Genesis Irradiator. 
Food irradiation is a cold pasteurization process that will do for meats, produce, and other foods what thermal pasteurization did for milk decades ago.
Ronald F. Eustice, Consultant
Phone: 612.202.1016