Food Irradiation Updates

Published by Ronald F. Eustice and sponsored  by GRAY*STAR Inc.
May 2015
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.
From Bozeman to Biloxi, from Newark to Newport Beach, from Australia, China, Thailand and Mexico to New Zealand irradiated fruits are on supermarket shelves. Consumers nationwide can purchase irradiated ground beef at retail stores, by mail order or by delivery directly to their homes. These are exciting times for food irradiation! Below are images of irradiated produce in US supermarkets. Please help all of us by going to your local supermarket and sharing any information about types of irradiated produce on the shelves. Pictures welcome if possible.
The volume of irradiated produce increasing in both Australia, New Zealand and the USA. In the USA alone some 40 million pounds are consumed annually

Irradiated guavas from Mexico at a major US retailer.

Approximately 12 million pounds of irradiated produce from Hawaii is marketed annually on the US mainland.


FEATURED ARTICLE: Using irradiation to make safe food safer: (Part I) By Ronald F. Eustice


Vibrio cases increased for the eighth consecutive year.

Salmonella infection cases are at the same pace they were in 2006-2008.


Food safety is at the top of every food processor's list of priorities. The public demands safe food and the marketing of an unsafe product is a recipe for disaster. Recalls are expensive; damage brand image and often result in litigation. A foodborne illness outbreak resulting in hospitalization or death is always a serious threat to a company's viability.


We often hear the words; we have the world's safest food supply. The food industry in the United States has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in technology to make food safer. Any claim about producing the world's safest food is open to challenge. Forty-eight million people fall sick every year in the US from eating food tainted with salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli, and other contaminants.


Let's look at the numbers: USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently posted the third quarter progress report for calendar year 2014 on testing of selected raw meat and poultry products for pathogenic bacteria.


Salmonella: This report provides preliminary data from July through September 2014 on all establishments eligible for salmonella testing that have completed at least two sampling verification sets since June 2006. 


A total of 2,396 samples were analyzed from 171 broiler establishments with a 4.1 percent positive rate for salmonella, representing an increase from the 3.1 percent positive rate for second quarter 2014. For young chickens, large plants showed a 1.5 percent positive rate, while small plants had a positive rate of 4.1 percent and very small plants had a positive rate of 15 percent.  


For turkeys, the overall salmonella positive rate in the third quarter was 1.9 percent, down from 2.7 percent in the second quarter. Large plants showed a 1.4 percent rate while small plants came in at 2.2 percent in the third quarter.   


For ground beef, a 3.3 percent salmonella positive rate in the third quarter was comprised of a 5.6 percent rate in large plants, a 3.2 percent rate in small plants and a 2.9 percent rate in very small plants.  In the second quarter the ground beef positive rate across all plant sizes was 1.5 percent. 


Campylobacter: For young chickens, the third quarter campylobacter positive rate was 6.9 percent, comprised of 1.3 percent in large plants, 7.9 percent in small plants and 28.3 percent in very small plants. In the second quarter, the rate across all plant sizes was 5.1 percent. 


For turkeys, the campylobacter positive rate was 1.2 percent, comprised of 0.5 percent in large plants and 1.6 percent in small plants. In the second quarter, the rate was 3.4 percent.


The complete report and program details are available here.


Every year the CDC releases a report titled Incidence and Trends of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food...." Let's compare the numbers for 2014 with those of 2013. The following numbers are actual laboratory confirmed cases, not estimates.


Salmonella infections were down 9% compared to 2010-2012, but level with 2006-2008. The report says that this might be because of the very high number of Salmonella enteritidis cases associated with the egg incident in 2010 that put the number of illnesses at its highest over the last ten years. 


Vibrio cases increased for the 8th straight year, and are most prevalent in the warmer months when the bacteria apparently reproduce more rapidly.Vibrio is usually associated with raw oysters and is most deadly in older men who consume too much alcohol by attacking their livers. Vibrio is the second deadliest bug after listeria.


STEC O157 and STEC non-O157 were very similar in frequency for 2014 compared to 2013 (1.15 and 1.17 respectively) and mortality at 0.4 percent for both years. Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome associated with STEC O157 decreased 36% compared to 2006-2008, but the actual illness rate did not decline.  


Vibrio cases increased for the 8th straight year, and are most prevalent in the warmer months when the bacteria apparently reproduce more rapidly.Vibrio is usually associated with raw oysters and is the second deadliest bug after listeria. Vibrio has nearly devastated the oyster industry but thanks to irradiation the industry will survive.


Each year the food industry invests millions of dollars in technology to eliminate deadly bacteria. The above numbers clearly show that we still have many challenges. My analysis of the numbers is that we are fighting a battle but not winning the war. When we read press releases from various meat associations, we get the idea that great progress is being made. Progress has been made but it looks to me like we take a step backward for every step forward. Without a "kill step" there is no net gain!

Albert Einstein said "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  We can take some lessons from the dairy industry and their reluctance to routinely use pasteurization as a "kill step".


What we need is a "kill step"

Historical Perspective

The process of heating or boiling milk for health benefits was recognized during the early 1800s and was used to reduce milk borne illness and mortality in infants in the late 1800s. As society industrialized around the turn of the 20th century, increased milk production and consumption led to outbreaks of milk borne diseases.

Common milk borne illnesses included typhoid fever, scarlet fever, septic sore throat, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and diarrheal diseases.  
A century ago, milk products caused approximately 1 out of every 4 outbreaks due to food or water in the United States (Weisbecker 2007). Today, far less than 1% of all food and waterborne illnesses can be traced to dairy products. In fact, dairy products cause the fewest outbreaks of all the major food categories (e.g., beef, eggs, poultry, produce, seafood) (CSPI 2008). This drastic improvement in the safety of milk over the last 100 years is believed to be due primarily to pasteurization, and improved sanitation and temperature control during the processing, handling, shipping and storage of fresh milk products.

Pasteurization was developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864 to improve the keeping qualities of wine. Commercial pasteurization of milk began in the late 1800s in Europe and in the early 1900s in the United States. Pasteurization became mandatory for all milk sold within the city of Chicago in 1908, and in 1947 Michigan became the first state to require that all milk for sale within the state be pasteurized.

In the USA, there were vigorous objections to the widespread heat treatment of milk and the debate continued for many years, although the method was recognized by dairy processors as a way of increasing the shelf life of fluid milk. Early commercial pasteurization of milk was not generally accepted, but many companies had secretly adopted the process because they were concerned about consumer acceptance. The incidence of milk-borne illness declined dramatically when pasteurization was used to kill bacteria. Pasteurization was the "kill step".

Irradiation is the "kill step":
The use of high-energy irradiation to kill microbes in food was evaluated in the USA as early as 1921, when scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture reported that it would effectively kill trichinae in pork. Irradiation has become a standard process used to sterilize many consumer and medical products, from adhesive strips to surgical implants. Three different technologies that can be used to treat food have been developed by the sterilization industry; gamma irradiation, electron beam irradiation and x-ray Irradiation. Each technology has its own advantages which irradiation service providers are well aware of.

Potential Health Benefits of Irradiating Meat and Poultry

Dr. Robert Tauxe at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has calculated the benefit that would occur if more meat were irradiated. Here is what Dr. Tauxe said, "We can roughly estimate the potential benefit of irradiating meat and poultry with a simple calculation. Let us assume that 50% of poultry, ground beef, pork, and processed meats are irradiated. Let us also assume that these foods are the source of 50% of foodborne E. coli O157, Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria and Toxoplasma infections. The potential benefit of the irradiation would be a 25% reduction in the morbidity and mortality rate caused by these infections. This estimated net benefit is substantial, as the measure could prevent nearly 900,000 cases of infection, 8,500 hospitalizations, over 6,000 catastrophic illnesses, and 350 deaths each year. With this estimate we assume that heavily contaminated meat is just as likely to be treated with irradiation as meat which is less contaminated. This estimate does not include the impact on other known pathogens these foods may contain, such as Yersinia enterocolitica and those yet to be identified. This estimate also does not account for the benefits of using irradiation to treat other foods, such as fresh produce that can also be a source of infection."

With people getting sick and dying because of eating food they thought was safe, irradiation should be used as a routine practice to make "safe" food safer.
FEATURED ARTICLE: Using irradiation to make safe food safer: (Part I)
MYTH of the MONTH:"Irradiation is too effective and irradiation is not effective enough." By Russell Stein


"Irradiation is too effective and irradiation is not effective enough."


This statement is incorrect.  The effects of irradiating food are proportionate to the dose, and the dose is controlled during the process.  Therefore, the effectiveness of irradiation is defined for each specific application

This myth appears to be two myths that are strung together for convenience, but that is not the case.  The myth is based on the argument that irradiation is too effective because, since it can be used to kill all pathogens, then it will be used to replace all Good Manufacturing Practices including sanitation.  And, at the same time, if it is not used to kill all of the pathogens, then it is not effective enough.
There are many methods for reducing pathogens in food.  A specific method only kills a percentage of the pathogens when properly applied.  This is common for chemicals used during the processing of the food, and/or as additives applied to the food.  For example, washing the food in highly chlorinated water will reduce the pathogens, but not eliminate them.  There are also several methods for eliminating pathogens in food.  For example, canning, when applied properly, will kill all of the pathogens.  We do not hear that pathogen reduction techniques "are not effective enough" and, similarly we do not hear that pathogen elimination techniques "are too effective".  For most processes, there are threshold conditions.  If the conditions are not met, such as chemical concentration or temperature or pressure etc., then the effect on the pathogens is inconclusive.
Irradiation has its advantages and its disadvantages.  One clear advantage is that the effect on pathogens is proportional to the irradiation dose to those pathogens.  However, the correlation of the effect from the dose is not linear, but logarithmic.    If a specific dose reduces the pathogen population from 100 to 10 in a sample of product, and you double that dose, the pathogens are reduced to 1.  If you triple the original dose, then there would only be 0.1 pathogens surviving (or one pathogen in ten samples of product).  We refer to the dose required to reduce the population of a specific pathogen by a factor of 10, the "Dvalue", the letter "D" representing "decimal reduction", or factor of 10.  If you give a product the Dvalue dose, you will reduce the pathogen by one "log" (another way of saying a factor of 10).  Therefore doubling the dose results in a "two log reduction".  Tripling: a "three log reduction", etc.
Consequently, you can customize the dose based on the population of target pathogens.  You can use the process as a pathogen reduction technique by applying perhaps a one log reduction (a 90% effective kill) or two log reduction (99%).  This may be employed in conjunction with other pathogen reduction techniques.  Or, you can use it as a technique to kill all of the pathogens, "sterilizing" the product similar to canning; a twelve log reduction (99.9999999999%).  More commonly, the process is used to "pasteurize" the product, which is typically a five log reduction (99.999%).
The cost of the process is somewhat proportional to the dose.  The higher the dose the higher the cost.  Also, if there are any negative effects on the product from irradiation there may be a dose that cannot be exceeded.  Thus, there are definite advantages in keeping the dose as low as practical as long as they are sufficient for achieving the intended purpose of the irradiation.  For products that have a pathogen requiring a dose that has a negative effect on a specific product or a dose that costs too much for the market to bear for that product, then the process will not be used on that specific product.
Is irradiation too effective?  Is irradiation not effective enough?  Irradiation is as effective as it needs to be.
Link to article...  

Russell N. Stein


Also in the News: Vietnam eyes US $2 billion produce market...Thanks to irradiation; VNS, Hanoi, (May 5, 2015):
During the first quarter of 2015, Vietnam has increased fruit exports by 13 percent over last year. Exports of fruits and vegetables reached $274 million.

HA NOI (VNS) - Viet Nam expects to reach a total export value of US$2 billion for fruits and vegetables this year, an official of the Viet Nam Vegetable and Fruit Association (Vinafruit) said.

Huynh Quang Dau, Vinafruit deputy chairman, said Viet Nam's export value of fruits and vegetables had seen strong growth in recent times, reported

The export value reached $1.47 billion in 2014, much higher than the $500 million earned in 2013, due to the expansion of the export market.

In the first quarter of this year, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) said the nation had gained a year-on-year increase of 13 per cent in the export value of fruits and vegetables, amounting to $274 million.

The Southern Fruit and Plant Research Institute said the strong growth was due to high demand for fruit in many countries, including the US, which has opened its market to some new kinds of fruit from Viet Nam, such as longans, litchis, rambutan and dragon fruit.

Additionally, many other markets saw double or triple the demand against the same period last year, including South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, it said.

The export value of fruits and vegetables would continue increasing sharply this year, Dau said, because many more kinds of Vietnamese fruits and vegetables would start approaching strict export markets such as the US, Australia, the EU and Japan.

New Zealand has also permitted imports of Vietnamese dragon fruit and has considered opening its market to Vietnamese mangos in the coming period, he said.

South Korea has continued importing milk fruit and plans to import other kinds of fruit as well, including bananas, chillis and jack fruit, from Viet Nam after treating it with irradiation technology.

Many other markets such as the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Australia and Canada have had high demand for the Vietnamese buoi hong da xanh (green-peel and pink-flesh) grapefruit, he said.

This year, Viet Nam has a great chance of exporting more fruit to the US after the US Department of Agriculture last year issued import licences for fresh Vietnamese litchis and longans, Dau said.

In March 2015, Viet Nam's Plant Protection Department provided the first 10 codes for regions growing litchis in the northern region of Viet Nam that reach the conditions for exporting to the US.

The north of Viet Nam does not have a US-certified factory for packing fruit or the proper irradiation machines, so the fresh litchis must be transported to the south of the country for packing and irradiation activities before the fruit can be exported to the US.

Litchis have the potential for high export value if local enterprises market their product well, improve the quality of the fruit after harvest, handle packaging and preservation, and build a brand for the fruit, he said.

The association has proposed that the government and MARD should plan to create regions especially for fruits and vegetables that meet VietGAP standards for export and should manage the use of plant protection drugs and chemicals.

This would ensure the production of clean fruits and vegetables reaching the food hygiene and safety standards of the world market, he said. - VNS

Also in the News: Vietnam given approval to export irradiation-treated lychees to Australia, ABC Rural News (May 11, 2015):

approved the importation of irradiation treated lychees and informed Australian importers

of the decision May 12.


It comes just in time for Vietnam's 2015 lychee harvest, which will commence in the next few weeks and last until the middle of July.

Consignments of Vietnamese lychees are permitted to be air or sea freighted to Australia and must be inspected on arrival. 

The Vietnamese government is hoping this will be the first of many tropical fruits it can export, including mangoes and dragon fruit.

Head of Australia's Lychee Growers Association, Derek Foley, from Electra, Queensland, said he was not worried about Vietnamese imports competing with local fruit. 

"We're not against the import of lychees, it won't clash with our season, which is Christmas (time)," Mr Foley said.


Audio: Australia grants import approval for Vietnamese lychees after 12 years. Australian Lychee Growers Derek Foley still waiting for access to China (ABC Rural)

Consignments of Vietnamese lychees are permitted to be air or sea freighted to Australia and must be inspected on arrival. 

The Vietnamese government is hoping this will be the first of many tropical fruits it can export, including mangoes and dragon fruit.


"Australian lychee growers would like to see good quality lychees coming into Australia." Mr Foley said the reputation of lychees had been spoilt when China exported vapour heat treated lychees to Australia in 2005.

"Vapour heat treatment is not kind to lychees, and it came by boat. 

"Unfortunately the whole trade collapsed because of the vapour heat treatment and Australia is still trying to get access to China.

"We're asking if the protocol can be irradiation, and reciprocal arrangements."

Australia's lychee industry is worth $20 million annually and the industry exports irradiated fruit to New Zealand and has recently been granted access to the United States.

Mr Foley said the Australian industry is not rapidly expanding its production, but that would change if it gained access to the lucrative Chinese market.

"Beijing could eat our Australian lychee crop for smoko on Monday morning," he said laughing.

Vietnam has not indicated when it will resume imports of Australian fruit, worth $40 million a year, which were stopped in January 2015 because of fruit fly concerns. 

Link to Article...

Russian firm Rosatom and Hindustan Agro to set up irradiation plants for food preservation; The Economic Times; Jayashree Bhosale, (May 6, 2015):
The Russian firm Rosatom will partner with Maharashtra's Agro-Cooperative to build a food irradiation facility.
PUNE, INDIA: A joint venture company set up by Rosatom, a Russian firm which works in the nuclear power sector, with Maharashtra's Hindustan Agro Co-operative will help increase the shelf life of agri-commodities such as vegetables, foods, cereals and pulses.

The venture plans to invest Rs 4000 crore-Rs 4,500 crore in the next five years to set up 25 integrated irradiation plants with advanced cold storage facilities in India, Mauritius, the Middle East and Malaysia.

Rosatom shortlisted Ahmednagar-based Hindustan Agro-Coperative, a co-operative of 32,000 farmers, after Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit in December 2014. The memorandum of understanding was signed in February 2015, while the project development agreement was done in the presence of Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadanvis on May 1. Two consultants are currently evaluating the project.

Hindustan Agro has been engaged in dairy, aquaculture, contract farming and export of fruits and vegetables, and has been operating an irradiation plant from 2007 with the help of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Mumbai, apart from operating the BARC irradiator at Lasalgaon.

"We plan to set up 25 mega plants of 35,000 tonne/annum to 40,000 tonne/annum capacity in the next 5 years," said Bharat Dhokane Patil, founder chairman, Hindustan Agro Co-operative.

Irradiation technology for food preservation makes use of low doses of Cobalt -60 radiation. In India, BARC supplies this material.

Dr Anil Kakodkar, former chairman, Atomic Energy Commission of India, said, "Irradiation helps increase the shelf life of perishable food items, which will help farmers get wider market access and bring price stability. It is particularly useful for Indian horticulture, where serious price fluctuations occur."

He added that irradiation is a very safe technology. "The World Health Organisation, Food and Agricultural Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency have approved safety of the technology."

Of the proposed 20 projects in India, three are expected to come up in Madhya Pradesh for cereals and pulses. Jimmy Olssson from Sweden, senior advisor to Hindustan Agro Co-operative, said, "Each plant will have grading, processing, packaging, cold storage and export facility. We will offer premium price to farmers."

Irradiation helps increase the shelf life of onions and potatoes to about six- 8 months as it discourages sprouting. However, the demonstration plant of BARC at Lasalgaon was not so popular among farmers. The Lasalgaon facility was used for irradiating mangoes to be exported to the United States as the country accepts only irradiated mangoes.

The Maharashtra government has set up a new irradiation facility near Mumbai for the convenience of exporters. However, most of the private sector irradiation facilities in the country are used mainly for sterlisation of surgical equipment/aids than for food preservation. 



USDA must tighten up its oversight at chicken processing plants: Editorial; The Oregonian/OregonLive  (May 9, 2015):


Foster Farms Chicken Raising Facility at Livingston, California
Salmonella is commonly found in poultry and is a serious cause of food borne illness


Salmonella persists, putting onto the front lines of food safety inspectors who view carcasses at a dizzying rate.

If you ever doubted the capacity of the federal government to function in a timely manner in protecting those to whom it is sworn to protect, consider that hundreds of people in Oregon and Washington got sick from eating chicken over the last decade despite detailed reports by state health officials to federal officials that they could. Consider, too, that product recalls of the sort that could prevent salmonella-exposure illnesses are few and far between, in part owing to the inability of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to order them.

An exhaustive report by Lynne Terry of The Oregonian/OregonLive shows state health officials linked salmonella outbreaks in 2004, 2009 and 2012 to the chicken producer Foster Farms, with a Kelso, Washington, processing plant fed by chicken farmers from across the Pacific Northwest. Among other things, Terry unmasks caution on the part of factory inspectors and outright fear among agency brass. She attributes to union officials who represent inspectors nationally the assertion that on-site inspectors at chicken plants are "pressured to go easy on food processors, citing one notable case in which the USDA transferred an inspector after Foster Farms complained he wrote too many citations." Separately, she writes: "USDA officials are so worried about being sued by companies that they've set a high bar for evidence, even rejecting samples of tainted chicken that state health agencies believed would help clinch their case...."

Salmonella's threat is by now well known. The bacteria starts in chicken feces, including from chicks, and can live and multiply all the way through bird life and production to the dining table if chicken meat is not cooked through to 165 degrees. But at the chicken factory, USDA inspectors have only tested chicken carcasses for salmonella, leaving the edible thighs, legs and breasts unchecked - this as Americans set the pace worldwide for chicken consumption at 84 pounds per capita annually. So salmonella persists, putting onto the front lines of food safety site inspectors who view carcasses at a dizzying rate but cannot possibly test enough birds in a domestic industry that processes 9 billion chickens a year.

The options are few, it seems. Reliable irradiation of raw food, approved for use by federal regulators years ago, continues to face popular opposition in the marketplace as damaging to food, and so chicken producers are left to douse raw dead birds at the factory with a cocktail of antimicrobial agents. A labor-intensive approach taken in Denmark, in which hand-washing and worker clothing-changes are frequent, Terry reported last year, proves successful but is expensive; with a goal of zero salmonella in chicken meat, Denmark's threshold is at odds with the USDA's goal of merely curbing salmonella exposure. To that end, USDA announced in January a limit on salmonella in chicken parts, figuring it would help prevent 50,000 illnesses annually nationwide - an outcome not to be achieved for up to five years, however, keeping the window open to potentially more salmonella outbreaks. The end game of federal policy is plain: It's up to the consumer to do final salmonella cleanup by washing and cooking chicken thoroughly.


Most galling is USDA's toothlessness. In a 2012 salmonella outbreak that surged in Oregon and Washington, chicken from Foster Farms' Kelso plant, as well as another in Fresno, California, was persuasively implicated after sample collection and testing by a Washington inspector. Terry reported: "A supervisor in the USDA's district office in Denver questioned whether the salmonella test results were 'necessarily the silver bullet' in an investigation. In a separate email a few minutes later, the supervisor had a different message: 'Reason I asked is that apparently Foster Farms brought the heavy hitter law firm in. I don't know the name but I understand they are not taking this lightly.'"

Nobody's taking it lightly. Foster Farms insists it leads the industry in cleanliness. But state-level public health officials, quick to respond to calls indicating food-borne illness, report their findings to federal authorities who allow weeks and months to pass and consumers to fall ill.

The situation could improve if USDA and elected officials were to take seriously

recommendations issued in April by the Consumer Federation of America, which chided USDA for failing to adequately implement federal inspection directives issued following the lethal 1993 outbreak of E.coli 0157:H7 linked to hamburgers sold at a Jack in the Box restaurant. The federation correctly urges USDA to delineate procedures and punishments for recurring food safety violations in chicken processing plants. And the federation wisely argues the agency's food inspection service should seek from Congress the authority to set and enforce performance standards for pathogen reduction.

If these measures seem rational, they are. If they seem simple, apparently they're not. But sick and dying people should be more than enough to make them a reality. 

Link to article...

Also read PBS documentary looks at salmonella in poultry... 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 
Ronald F. Eustice | 13768 Trost Trail | Savage, | MN | 55378





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