Food Irradiation Updates

Published by Ronald F. Eustice and sponsored  by GRAY*STAR Inc.
November  2014
Food Irradiation Update is published monthly by Ronald F. Eustice, a food quality & safety assurance consultant based in Tucson, Arizona and Burnsville, Minnesota. He can be reached at: reustice@gmail.comand at 612.202.1016.
This issue of Food Irradiation Update focuses on marketing activities in Australia and New Zealand. Steritech, the Queensland-based irradiation  service provider has taken a proactive role in seeking new approvals and consumer education. These efforts have been highly successful. Currently 12 Australian commodities are approved for irradiation and an additional eleven are in progress. Australia has created a successful model that other countries can and should replicate.  
Link to Australia's Consumer Education Position Paper here.  
FEATURED ARTICLE: An Irradiated Produce Marketing Success Story; By Murray Lynch
 Australia: An Irradiated Produce Marketing Success Story

By Murray Lynch


Fruit and vegetable growers in the state of Queensland, Australia produce about $2 billion of produce each year. An increasing quantity of produce is exported to New Zealand and other countries and about 70 per cent is sold within Australia, including states which do not have the Queensland fruit fly, a pest that is found in many parts of Queensland. 


Restrictions on the use of chemicals to control pests in Australia: 

Dimethoate and fenthion are two chemical treatments that have been used to eliminate insect pests. However, after a government review of possible residues in food and of public and occupational health concerns, their use in horticulture has been restricted. This means fresh produce growers need alternative treatments to these chemicals after harvest, for eliminating insects such as fruit fly, before they can sell their products in New Zealand, or other export markets.   

Australia has developed and approved a protocol called an Interstate Certification Assurance (ICA-55) protocol, this is for the use of irradiation as a phytosanitary treatment for fresh fruits and vegetables in order to gain domestic market access into South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. For example, once the Australian government food regulators Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) have approved the commodity, these approved commodities can be treated at Steritech's Brisbane facility and sold in any state in Australia, using the ICA-55 protocol.


Commodities currently approved for irradiation: 

FSANZ have approved the following commodities for the use of irradiation as a phytosanitary treatment: tomato, capsicum, mango, rockmelon, persimmon, lychee, papaya (paw paw), breadfruit, rambutan, longan, carambola, custard apple, mangosteen and rambutan.

Commodities pending approval for irradiation: 

The Queensland Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (QDAFF) has submitted an application to FSANZ, in order to seek permission to treat a further 11 specific fruits: apple, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum, honeydew, rockmelon, strawberry, table grape and zucchini/scallopini (squash) for phytosanitary purposes. The approval for these commodities is expected inJanuary/February 2015.


Currently, there are also projects which are being finalised for irradiation and these include: blueberries and raspberries, which are being developed for both domestic and export markets.


The FSANZ approval process: 


Australian food regulators (FSANZ), have established stringent regulations before approval is granted for irradiating food items. We must first put together an application for the regulator, which includes a full nutrient and toxicity profile. That application is assessed for 12 months prior to approval. The process includes two public consultation periods. 


This approval process is based on Standard 1.5.3, which governs the use of irradiation on foods for human consumption in Australia and New Zealand. It is health based, not pest-risk or plant health based.


The nutritional profile includes analysis for ash, energy, dietary fibre, fat profile, moisture, sodium, protein, total sugars, sugar profile, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and beta-carotene. Overall, our results show that tomato and capsicum can tolerate 1000 Gy irradiation without significant deterioration in nutrient content after treatment and storage. The nutritional components of fresh whole tomatoes and capsicum were not negatively affected by low dose irradiation. Storage time had a larger impact on these components than irradiation itself.


Export of Australian Produce:


Australia has exported mangoes to New Zealand during nine seasons. During our most recent season a total of 1018 metric ton of irradiated mangoes were exported to New Zealand. Except for one season (season 7) when we had a bad harvest, we have experienced a gradual increase of exports. 


Export of Australian Produce to New Zealand


The chart shows that we processed around 340 pallets of tomatoes and 50 pallets for export to New Zealand. Compared to our first season of mangoes this was a good result for irradiated in Australia.


The Australian mango and lychee industry have been attempting working to gain market access into the United States for the past 7 years. Recently, the U.S has finally approved a bilateral agreement to export Australian mangoes and lychees, using irradiation as their mandatory phytosanitary treatment for gaining market access. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be conducting an audit during the first week of December, 2014 in order to certify Steritech's Queensland facility.  Once certified, trade in irradiated Australian mangoes and lychees is scheduled to begin in mid-December, 2014.  This facility certification will also make it easier for other Australian fresh produce industries to apply for market access into the U.S.


Inter-state Trade within Australia

Under ICA-55 preliminary trials were carried out sending irradiated Queensland mangoes to Melbourne and Tasmania. During August 2013, tomatoes and capsicums were also sold in the states of Western Australia and South Australia.


Prior to treating any product this season we decided that it was important to ensure that we received and only processed good quality produce. If poor quality produce had entered the market "irradiation would be blamed for the quality and put the future of irradiated produce at risk - "Rubbish in rubbish out". We must not only think about the invoice. A "Fit for treatment" inspection is performed for each consignment on arrival and given a green light or not.


Irradiation can fit in with the horticulture supply chain and maintain integrity of the 'cool chain'. Also the supply chain is important. Keeping the produce at its correct temperature during its time at the Steritech facility. 


Steritech Pty Ltd - Company Background:

Steritech has been providing contract irradiation service for almost 40 years and has facilities in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane (Narangba). The Brisbane plant is capable and licensed to provide phytosanitary treatments for fresh produce. Steritech has developed several innovations in food irradiation. For example, we worked with the experts at Nordion to lower our conveyor so that handling the top layers of produce from the pallets was avoided. This would have caused product damage. In this way, we improved our product utilisation efficiency, without affecting the dose uniformity. As a result, less cobalt is now required. We also added cooling to the irradiation chamber.


Point of Sale: 

It is essential that growers and irradiation service providers work with the retailer to ensure a positive message. 


Our slogan is: 


A Chemical Free Phytosanitary Treatment 

MYTH of the MONTH by Russell Stein
"Irradiation is too expensive."

"Irradiation is too expensive."



There is no such thing as a free irradiated lunch.  However, irradiation processing is not as expensive as many believe.

For all goods and services, one can breakdown the costs into two categories: "fixed costs" and "variable costs".  Fixed costs are those that do not rely on the amount of products or services produced.  Building and equipment costs are typically "fixed".  On the other hand, costs that increase with increased production are "variable".  Typically these include raw material costs and hourly wages.


The costs for irradiation facilities are almost all fixed costs.  There are very few variable costs associated with the process.  The primary reason is that irradiation is a process involving no raw materials.


Initial capital requirements for an irradiation facility are relatively high.  The cost for a commercial irradiator starts at over a million dollars and can typically cost several million dollars, depending on production capacity.  This is a fixed cost.  The amount of time and expense to train irradiator operators is most cost effective if they are employed full time; whether or not product is being processed.  This is also a fixed cost.  For gamma facilities, the cobalt-60 source is bought in increments and it is depleted whether or not the irradiator is processing product.  Once again, a fixed cost.  E-beam and X-ray irradiators use electricity to generate their radiation.  For these irradiators, a major portion of their electricity costs are variable, but most of their other costs are fixed.


With most of the costs fixed, the cost to process a pound of product will depend on how many pounds of product are processed.  Simplistically, if the fixed costs are $1,000,000 per year and only one pound is processed, then the cost/pound is $1,000,000!  However, with the same fixed costs, processing 100,000,000 pounds, the cost would only be $0.01 per pound.


Therefore, the trick to economically operating an irradiator is to run as much product through as practical.  That is why most commercial irradiators try to operate 24/7/365.


If a company has enough product to irradiate, then it may be cost effective to purchase and operate their own irradiator.  The more product, the lower the cost.  On the other hand, if they do not have enough product to cover their fixed costs, then it will probably be more cost effective to contract with a service irradiation facility.  However, a service facility has some costs that are greater than would be incurred by an in-house facility such as having to deal with multiple regulatory agencies due to the variety of products they may be irradiating.  An in-house facility would only have to deal with regulators specific to their product.  Contract services also have to have irradiation sales staffs, marketing, warehousing facilities and other components not required by in-house processors.  And, the service providers need to generate a profit.  Therefore the price/pound of using a service facility will be significantly higher than the cost/pound for an in-house facility assuming the in-house facility has a sufficient volume of product to process.


The relative expense of the product is dependent on the volume of the product being irradiated.  However, how "expensive" it is depends on the value added by the process to the product.


If the benefit of irradiation is greater than the cost of the irradiation, then the process is not expensive.  Today, many foods are one must conclude that it is not as expensive as many believe.

Link to Article...

Russell N. Stein

AUCKLAND: More irradiated fruit and vegetables from Australia are likely to go on sale in New Zealand as early as next year.


Importers have welcomed the move but growers say the products could be used in fruit drinks without consumers' knowledge. Queensland's Department of Agriculture has applied for permission to irradiate 11 fruits and vegetables - apples, apricots, cherries, honeydew melons, nectarines, peaches, plums, rockmelons, strawberries, grapes and zucchini and scallopini - to protect against the Queensland fruit fly.


Under the proposal, fruit on a conveyor belt will be irradiated with gamma rays to kill one of the world's worst pests.


The change would affect about $2 billion of fruit and vegetables produced by Queensland growers each year. Some goes to New Zealand and other countries but about 70 per cent is sold within Australia, including in states which do not have fruit fly.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand, which last year allowed irradiated tomatoes and capsicums at the same dose to protect against fruit fly, is expected to approve the application next April. New Zealand already allows irradiation for spices and tropical fruits such as mangoes.

ALSO IN THE NEWS: Irradiated produce now a standard in Australia & New Zealand; New Zealand Herald (October 2014)
AUCKLAND: Twenty years ago, the prospect of irradiated fruit and vegetables from Australia going on sale here would have attracted strong opposition. At that time, opponents contended that irradiation would affect the appearance of food and deplete its vitamin content. So deep-seated was the concern that a public outcry stopped plans to build irradiation plants at Tokoroa and Mangakino.

Now, things are very different. Any qualms about the looming import of 11 types of fruit and vegetables from Queensland must focus on consumers being made fully aware that they have been bombarded with gamma rays.

The process was, in fact, declared safe by our regulator of food standards, a joint authority for New Zealand and Australia, more than a decade ago. That decision paid heed to increasing scientific evidence, as well as the desirability of replacing the chemical fumigation of pests and micro-organisms. Nonetheless, the fear of a consumer backlash initially limited imports to tropical fruits, such as papaya and mangoes, and spices.

Only last year was a standard food item in the form of tomatoes added to this list.

Now, with an application by Queensland's Department of Agriculture to move much further along this path by irradiating the likes of apples, apricots, peaches and zucchini, the time is right to ensure consumers will have the knowledge necessary to make a fully informed purchase.

History does not inspire total confidence. Under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, irradiated food must be clearly labelled with signs or stickers showing it has undergone the treatment. But eight years ago, Australian mangoes appeared in Auckland fruit shops without stickers saying they had been zapped.

The mangoes came in appropriately labelled boxes and were cleared by quarantine officials. But stickers were not on the fruit when they were sold. Other mangoes featured stickers with minute type. Quite clearly, that is untenable. Shoppers must be better served. Kevin Nalder, of the Fresh Produce Importers Association, is wrong to suggest labelling is outdated because it is only one of the main issues that might concern customers. Indeed, the need for disclosure will escalate with the type of fruit and vegetables that appear on everybody's shopping list. And that requirement must extend beyond the sale of basic items.

Many of the irradiated fruit, which are expected to be approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand in April, are staples in fruit salads, juices and smoothies. It is reasonable for the labels on such items to warn that they include irradiated fruit. Similarly, it should not be out of the question for restaurant menus and fast-food outlets to advise that their dishes, burgers or pizzas contain irradiated products. Indeed, the food standards code applies to food that contains irradiated ingredients or components. But in the case of tomatoes, there has been insufficient evidence of this information being supplied to customers.

Mr Nalder is right when he says it is now well established that irradiation is safe. Equally, the threat posed by the Queensland fruit fly should never be underestimated. This country's horticultural industry is particularly vulnerable. In 1998, an outbreak of Mediterranean fruit fly led several countries to restrict New Zealand exports.

Nevertheless, consumers have the right to make up their own mind about irradiated fruit and vegetables whether they are in basic or processed form. They can do this only if they are fully informed. In all likelihood, importers need not fear a backlash. Clear and honest labelling will simply confirm that most people are ready to set aside any of the concerns they might once have had about irradiated food.

HO CHI MINH CITY: Vietnamese fruits have gradually conquered world markets, said Nguyen Xuan Hong, director of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's (MARD) Plant Protection Department.

Hong noted that Vietnam was a tropical country, especially the southwest region, with orchards all year round, and recently, the United States announced it was importing fresh lychee and longan from Vietnam beginning October 6. In addition, Vietnamese fruit exporters also plan to sell various fruits such as apples, as well as dragon fruit, rambutan, lychee and mango, to difficult markets such as the US and Japan, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan.

"This will be a great opportunity for Vietnamese fruits to start conquering world markets," he remarked. Hong added that Vietnam had an advantage in exporting fruits since some of them, including dragon fruit and lychee, were delicious and favoured by importers.

He said the US move to import lychee and longan from Vietnam would open more opportunities for Vietnamese fruits to penetrate deeper into the US as well as other demanding markets.

In addition, this move will also create an opportunity for Vietnamese fruit and vegetable exporters to minimise their reliance on the Chinese market and ensure sustainable growth.

Hong also warned that exporting fruits to difficult markets such as the European Union, US and Japan required Vietnamese exporters to meet strict food safety requirements and to subject their products to irradiation treatment to neutralise all plant pests, mostly insects.

Link to article...

US opens door for more fresh mangoes from Philippines, By: Inquirer (October 17, 2014):

WASHINGTON, DC - More fresh, sweet mangoes from the Philippines will be coming to the United States as a result of Washington's recent decision to allow importation of mangoes from nearly any area in the archipelago.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently declared that the whole Philippines, with the exception of the island-province of Palawan, is now free from pests, particularly pulp and seed weevil. The ruling resulted from an extensive survey conducted in 79 provinces in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

This means there is now greater opportunity for mango exports, the Philippine Embassy said in a statement. Agriculture Attache Josyline Javelosa said this market opening presents an opening for mango-producing provinces like Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan, Isabela, Batangas and Tarlac in Luzon; Cebu and Iloilo in the Visayas; and  Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato and Davao del Sur in Mindanao, to name a few.

Palawan mangoes still OK

Javelosa said that Palawan, which was declared by USDA to be free from seed weevil, could still export its mango produce to the US mainland, but only after having the produce go through irradiation treatment. 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 





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