Published by Ronald F. Eustice and sponsored  by GRAY*STAR Inc.
January 2017
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
In 2012, I retired from my position as Executive Director at the Minnesota Beef Council after more than 22 years of service to Minnesota's cattle producers. My goal was to take life easier. That has not happened. My work as a consultant in the area of food irradiation has become a full-time job. Exciting things are happening. Most recently, I completed two text book chapters for the Royal Society of Chemistry UK in cooperation with the Instituto Politecnico de Braganca in Portugal. The chapters are titled "Global Status and Worldwide Commercial Applications of Food Irradiation" and "Successful Marketing of Irradiated Foods." One of the articles to be include in the "Global Status" chapter (by Cherin Balt) is included in this issue. Thanks to the many experts who have helped me on this project. 
Featured Article:  Irradiation of South African Foods; By Cherin Balt, Managing Director, HEPRO Cape (Pty) Ltd. Capetown, South Africa
Cherin Balt 
HEPRO Managing Director 
Capetown, South Africa.
There are currently four commercial facilities in South Africa. The history of irradiation in South Africa commenced in the early 1960's when the Pelindaba plant was set up as part of the Atomic Energy Board's efforts to use nuclear material for peaceful purposes under the auspices of Dr. Rocco Basson.

Long life, high dose food packs were produced for use by the military as well as fresh produce such as strawberries demonstrating the successful use of irradiation for shelf life extension.

It became clear the technology was commercially viable which led to the establishment of the irradiator in Johannesburg in the early 1970's to treat a wide variety of products including medical and food. This facility is currently owned by Steris.

The possibility of irradiating fruit destined for European countries, the biggest market for SA fruit , led to a facility being established
  in Tzaneen , a fruit growing area, in the early 1980's. The purpose of the irradiation was shelflife extension. When the EU finally decided irradiation was not an opttion that facility was decommissioned in mid 1980's

Then followed Hepro Cape establishing in 1986 in Cape Town thereafter Gamwave in 1989 situated in Durban.
 The Pelindaba facility was decommissioned in the mid 1990's and recommissioned in 2013 now run by Gamwave.

South Africa exported its first air shipment of lychees to the United States in 2016. This was the first time the South African lychee
sector has supplied the U.S. market, following long negotiations for market access. South African officials consider this achievement as one of the major contributions on the country's initiative of expanding exports markets, positioning South Africa as one of the significant exporters in the world. One of the conditions stipulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) includes irradiation treatment to eliminate certain pests and insects. {Editor's note: Significant and increasing amounts of South African lychees and persimmons are currently being irradiated at a US facility}.

Foods irradiated in South Africa
Figures supplied to the Department of Health from all 4 facilities span the past 10 years up to the end of 2015 and are summarized in this bar graph.  
Shown In the following
  graph are the food categories  of which all but honey are dwarfed by the spice volumes. A change in the legislation in 2011 led to the increase shown.

Spices are by far the biggest food category being irradiated (reaching
19,000 tons in 2014) They are either imported or local and are irradiated for control of insects, yeasts, moulds and bacteria. The spices are sold as is, or as prepacks used in marinades. 

The next largest category is honey - around 3200 Tons - whic
h is irradiated to combat American Foulbrood disease (AFB). 

Large volumes of honey are imported from around the world to supplement the local honey the volumes of which are inadequate due to adverse drought conditions. The potential for foulbrood in the honey is great as it is an international problem and is devastating. The bacterium causing this disease kills off the grubs in the hives eventually leading to the death of the hive. It is a spore former and can therefore survive most things- except irradiation.

Bees are critical to the pollination of crops and being an agrarian economy their work is essential to the safe supply of food.
Many bee farmers also send their empty hives to be irradiated.  South Africa is the only country in the world legislating for the irradiation of imported honey to control AFB. Outbreaks that have occurred recently were traced back to honey imported , but not irradiated.

Fresh garlic is irradiated for the prevention of sprouting . As the commodity is lifted during harvesting it is cooled down and imported into South Africa. Irradiating the garlic early on in the growth cycle is effective in preventing sprouting as well as the added advantage of phytosanitary control .

Dehydrated vegetables and powders are irradiated to control bacteria, yeasts, moulds and insects. These products are used in the manufacture of instant soups.
Dried fruits are usually treated with Sulphur to prevent mould growth. Many people are allergic to Sulphur and irradiation offers an excellent alternative. These fruits are mostly used in the manufacture of confectionary, yoghurt and chocolates 

Eggs are irradiated in both the frozen
 and broken state as well as whole eggs. Eggs become rather runny when irradiated so are irradiated in the frozen state adequate for use by confectioners. When irradiated whole, they are mostly used as a quarantine control mechanism to supply whole eggs to ecologically sensitive areas
Rooibos tea has been irradiated since the 1980's when Salmonella was found in the tea which was exported to Australia. The Australian and Japanese governments refused irradiated produce in their country. An alternative was sought and Steam Sterilisation was chosen leading to a lesser flavour and colour.

Meat, meat casings and seafoods are irradiated in very tiny quantities for bacterial control and mostly in the frozen state.
Nuts are irradiated at low doses to control insects. Doses are very low as the lipid content is high and can lead to organoleptic changes. 

Manufacturers' viewpoint of irradiated foodstuffs 
When asking manufacturers why they irradiate their produce, the answers are efficacy and convenience allowing final product to be irradiated in their terminal packaging thus avoiding re-contamination to increase food safety. 
Reasons such as those listed include complementing other processes
  • complements the use of other treatments
  • a reliable and effective technology against a broad spectrum of bacteria, yeasts and moulds.
  • No residues after irradiation - Immediate use after irradiation possible- no quarantine period
  • Food is safe after irradiation
  • Non-invasive procedure
  • Products may be irradiated as raw materials or in their final packaging.
  • Does not affect the organoleptic qualities of product when irradiated at the correct dose
  • Approved by WHO, FAO, and other world health institutions
  • Improvement in Food Safety Standards have focused attention on the method
Strict legislation was imposed in 2011 with specifications relating to pathogens and bio-burden levels being tightened leading to more manufacturers using this technology in their process. 

Labeling Requirements  
Manufacturers are required by law to notify the consumer that product has been irradiated.  Either the Radura label or the words "treated by irradiation", "irradiated" or  "radurised" displayed next to the item irradiated. Labelling offers the consumer the choice.

Retailer Response to Irradiated Foods  
Most retailers have no problem with displaying the irradiated foodstuffs, however there some though display on the packaging "Non Irradiated".
 This kind of negative advertising plays on the fears for the word irradiation and is of no value because it pffers no information to the consumer.

Consumer response
There appears to be no negative reaction to irradiated foods which abound in the supermarkets in the form of dried spices and in marinades already included in the meat packaging, instant soups and many other products. 
Batch Pallet Irradiator at HEPRO 

Future of irradiation in South Africa 
A radiant future is on the cards as food companies grow and more variety and complex recipes requiring top quality Uncontaminated ingredients are offered to clients.

The phytosanitary application of irradiated fruits allowing access to markets currently unavailable. South Africa has a very big fruit export market and as more countries accept irradiation as a phytosanitary control, this will put the country in a position to offer a wide array of fruit to a greater number of markets. A Framework Equivalency Workplan with the USA is in place. Other countries are enquiring about the process and the possibility of irradiating their imported fruit from South Africa.

Cherin Balt, Managing Director, Hepro, Capetown, South Africa
MYTH of the MONTH: "It would take a huge dose of radiation, much more than is needed, to actually make food radioactive." By Russell Stein
"It would take a huge dose of radiation, much more than is needed, to actually make food radioactive."
This statement is incorrect. Food will not be made radioactive no matter how "huge" the dose.

"Dose" is the amount of radiation energy absorbed (quantity) in the product. Dose is measured in Grays. One Gray is equal to 1 joule per kilogram. As the radiation hits the molecules of food, the radiation energy is totally converted to heat energy (absorbed).

Similarly, if you put the same food in your household oven, the heat energy is transferred to the molecules of food. The heat energy absorbed could also be measured in joules per kilogram. No matter how much heat is applied to the food, an oven cannot make the food radioactive. Thus the absorbed dose does not make food radioactive.

Something can be made radioactive by subjecting it to a type of radiation with specific qualities that can affect the nucleus of an atom. To avoid these, the FDA has limited the sources for irradiation that can be used on foods. Specifically four different types of radiation:
1). Cobalt-60 - A radioactive element that produces two gamma photons with discrete (cannot be changed) energies of 1.17 and 1.33 MeV. (Million electron Volts)
2). Cesium-137 - A radioactive element that produces one gamma photon with a discrete energy of 0.662 MeV.
3). Accelerated Electrons (Electron Beam) - Made in a machine that accelerates electrons (beta particles) to an energy not to exceed 10 MeV.
4). X-rays - Generated by taking accelerated electrons, which are not to exceed 7.5 MeV, and converting them into x-rays. (X-rays and gamma photons, at the same MeV, are identical. The only difference is how they are created.)

The qualities of the radiation and not the quantities of radiation will determine if something is made radioactive. To assure that food is not made radioactive, the FDA has limited the process to only four sources of radiation as described.
Russell Stein 
Also in the News: Seventh Annual Chapman Phytosanitary Conference (March 21-22, 2017):
Registration is now open for the 2017 Phytosanitary Irradiation Forum.  Please feel free to share this notice with anyone you think might be interested. 
Many thanks to Gold sponsor, Mevex, silver sponsors, Steritech and CGN Dasheng, and Bronze sponsors, IBA and Nordion, for supporting this forum. We look forward to seeing you at Chapman in March. Sponsored by Chapman University, the USDA and the FAO/IAEC. Registration is $100.

Also in the News: Texas A & M Workshop (March 19-24, 2017):

Australian lychee industry triumphant as it cracks United States market, but still a way off for lucrative China trade; By Charlie McKillop and Marty McCarthy: ABC Rural (December 24, 2016):
Fresh lychees have been exported from North Queensland to the USA for the first time. All must be irradiated to eliminate "hitch-hiking" fruit flies. 
BRISBANE: Australia's first-ever shipment of fresh lychees into the United States has landed successfully, just in time for the pre-Christmas rush.

To make the plane, the lychees had to go from far north Queensland, where they were picked and packed, to Brisbane to be treated and tested against strict protocols on chemical use, including zero tolerance for pests and defects.
Even now, Mareeba grower Marcello Avolio said he would not know if the new export market gamble had paid off until the Americans had tasted his fruit.

"I'm hoping when they put their first bite into it, they will just be over the moon," he said.

Australia's lychee industry was given the all clear to export to the US last season, but tough pesticide restrictions by the US on imported fruit meant no Australian fruit made it. Mr Avolio said the export standards set by the US were incredibly high compared to the domestic market. His fruit had to pass a stringent inspection where 300 individual lychees were visually inspected and 100 of them cut open to ensure there were no pests or defects.

"In the domestic market there is a one to five per cent tolerance in defects, but for the USA there is no tolerance," Mr Avolio said. "If they find one pest, it's out, it's finished and it has to stay here in Australia."

Mr Avolio said it had taken a week and a half for the fruit to reach the US, and he hoped the quality was still high.
"The issue is the 10 to 11 days the fruit has spent in the transport chain, so I'm hoping it will hold up, fingers crossed. I've got everything crossed!"
Marcello Avolio shown above with his history making shipment of irradiated lychees which arrived in Los Angeles just in time for Christmas. 
"I love challenges, but if you ask me if I will do it next year, I won't comment!"
There are only eight Australian lychee growers registered for export to the US.
The Australian Lychee Growers' Association's Jill Houser said each grower had to go through an audit program, which they had to pay for themselves.
China looms large

The export achievement is a milestone for Australia's lychee growers, but the industry is yet to crack the biggest market of them all. Ms Houser said there were still challenges getting the fruit into the highly-valuable Chinese market.

"The fruit going to the US is being low-dose irradiated, the same as New Zealand, which is a very safe way to send the fruit," she said.

"But China isn't accepting that at the moment. "We have done another submission to open up the market for Australian in lychees in China, but it hasn't gone through yet so we will keep pursuing it."

Lychees are an important crop in Queensland. The market for Australian lychees in China is huge especially during the Chinese New Year. 
Lychees are native to China but they are only harvested there in the middle of the year. Demand for lychees in China soars during Chinese New Year, in January and February, which coincides with Australia's lychee harvest season.

"We are trying to get more fruit overseas because the [domestic] market can get flooded and the demand for it when its flooded brings the price down," Ms Houser said. "If we can get more overseas and less on the domestic market we are hoping to keep the price reasonable for all growers so they can make money out of it." 
Opinion: What's up with mangoes from Down Under? FreshFruitPortal (January 4, 2017): 
Karen Caplan
By Frieda's Specialty Produce, CEO Karen Caplan
Why is there sudden U.S. interest in mangoes from Australia? If you've tasted one, then you understand why. And America's continuing love affair for all things Australian also helps!

While the U.S. mango market is highly competitive, Aussie mangos have seen success thanks to their premium quality, fragrant and sweet flavor, silky smooth texture, and beautiful skin color.

After many years of work, Australian growers and exporters were finally able to ship mangos into the U.S. with USDA-APHIS irradiation protocols in January 2015. With only a few U.S. importers of Australian mangoes, the demand is high.
Now preparing to ship the third U.S. season in January 2017, the Australian mango growers are excited to offer more volume and additional varieties.

Kensington Pride, R2E2, and Calypso are the three most popular varieties coming out of Australia right now. Frieda's is very excited to bring to the U.S., in good volume, the Kensington Pride and R2E2 varieties starting in January.

With their sweeter, juicier, and large flesh-to-seed ratio, U.S. shoppers seem willing to pay premium price for amazing tasting and high color fruit. Many retailers will offer them as an additional mango variety for high-end stores.

American retailers may not be used to handling Australian mangoes, which are picked at a higher maturity level. That's why they are air-shipped and must be handled a bit differently.

The savvy Australian Mango Industry Association (AMIA) offers a detailed ripening manual to take out the guesswork for U.S. wholesalers and retailers. That's a very smart move.

It's going to be interesting to see which mangoes will eventually win the hearts-and wallets-of American shoppers.
U.S. receives first ever commercial Aussie litchi shipment; FreshFruitPortal (January 4, 2017): 
Irradiation is a mandatory phytosanitary protocol for import of Australian lychees into the USA
Two years after the U.S. market officially opened for Australia litchis, an exporter-importer has successfully carried out its first commercial shipment across the Pacific Ocean.

Produce company FAVCO said the inaugural export was made in late December to Los Angeles, adding samples had now been distributed to exotic fruit wholesalers and retailers around the West Coast and New York.

The fruit was supplied to the shipper by Seasons Farm Fresh, which works with various small family-run farms. FAVCO is one of three approved exporters to send the product to the U.S. market, which requires the fruit be irradiated in Australia.

"Our season begins in volume in mid December and runs through potentially to late February. We are looking at doing up to five shipments this year during December/ Early January," FAVCO representative John Nardi said.

"It is a difficult protocol to meet so we are only looking at doing small trial shipments this year. If successful, we can do a lot more quantity and a two month program for next year." Initial feedback has been very positive, Seasons Farm Fresh said, as the Tai So variety litchis have excellent appearance and flavor.

It added the price point for the Australia litchis would be high, but said growers and exporters were confident that demand would allow for a market to develop over the next few years.

Speaking to in November, Australian Lychee Growers Association president Derek Foley said the registration of chemicals in both countries had been the industry's final hurdle in carrying out exports to the U.S.
In May last year, U.S. authorities registered an insecticide that had been used in Australia for mite control, and in early November the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) registered a pesticide called Switch used to combat pepper spot.

All Australian litchi exports will be made via airfreight due to the tropical fruit's high perishability.

In terms of market prospects, Foley said the litchi sector would likely follow along a similar path to the mango industry and build up volumes gradually.

"We'll start off slowly gauging the reaction. There's lots of negotiating with things like prices - that's what makes it worthwhile," he said.
Photo: Seasons Farm Fresh Facebook page
 Link to article ... 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