Food Irradiation Updates

Published by Ronald F. Eustice and sponsored  by GRAY*STAR Inc.
November 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
Phytosanitary irradiation is rapidly becoming the preferred method to disinfest fruits destined for international markets. Whether it's Australian fruit destined for New Zealand, Hawaiian fruit heading to the US mainland, Florida fruit going to California, US fruit being shipped to Mexico or Mexican produce crossing the US border, irradiation has become a routine process to protect local agriculture from unwanted pests. One of the obstacles that has prevented exports of Mexican fruit to the US in the past has been fruit flies. The US wants Mexican fruit but not Mexican bugs. Irradiation is the preferred way to eliminate these pests. Read more below about how Benebion, an irradiation company based in Matehuala, Mexico is leading the charge.
FEATURED ARTICLE: Irradiation is helping Mexican fruit growers expand exports. By Ronald F. Eustice
There is a popular saying in Mexico, "Too far from God and so close to the United States!" However, the geographic proximity of Mexico to the world's largest consumer market does have many advantages.
Thousands of refrigerated semi-trailer trucks cross the US/Mexican border daily carrying fruits and vegetables. The US wants fresh produce but not harmful bugs.
Fruit and vegetable growers south of the US border are reaping huge rewards as hundreds of semi-trailer trucks cross the US border daily. USDA statistics
show that Mexico by far is the most important supplier of fresh produce to the U.S., accounting for about 40% of U.S. fresh fruit import value. The value of U.S. imports of Mexican fresh fruit increased by an average of about 20% per year from 1999 to 2012. By comparison, the value of U.S. imports of Chilean fruit totaled $1.22 billion in 2012, up an average of 10% per year over the same period.

Phytosanitary irradiation is helping Mexico access the lucrative US market and Benebion, Mexico's first irradiation facility devoted entirely to food. Based in Matehuala, San Luis Potosi, Benebion is playing a major role in making Mexican fruit exports to the US a reality. 

One of the obstacles that has prevented exports of some Mexican fruit to the US in the past has been fruit flies
. The US wants Mexican fruit but not Mexican bugs. Irradiation is usually the most effective, often the most economical and nearly always the most environmentally-friendly way to eliminate these pests and protect American agriculture. 
Mexican producers and exporters have perfected the production, logistics and export process of many types of fruit especially mango, citrus fruits, guavas and berries. Mexican mango and guavas each have about 20 percent of the total global market share. Fruit and vegetable exports have grown rapidly in recent years and all indications are that this growth will continue to accelerate as emphasis on "eating healthy" increases.

We spoke with Arved Deecke who has been a driving force at Benebion since the plant was inaugurated in July 2011. While the plant was initially built for phytosanitary irradiation, the company now has grown to sufficient capacity to treat a wide range of products at different doses. Fruits that are being irradiated include guava, mango, grapefruit, mandarin, carambola, pomegranate, fig, pitahaya, pitaya, prickly Pear, starfruit and rambutan. Other products are a wide variety of fresh, dehydrated or frozen products that are treated to reduce microbial count.

Irradiated Mexican fruit is available at thousands of US supermarkets.
Arved says, "Without this wider portfolio the company would still struggle with sustainability, as phytosanitary irradiation is still a niche treatment and has not caught on with the high volume perishables like mangoes and citrus."

He adds, "The phytosanitary growth segment has been slow but steady. We are far from seeing the need for a second facility in the country and can serve all major border crossings on increased cobalt loading for several years to come."
We asked Arved what has been the experience when customers introduce irradiated products in the US market. He responded, "Introducing irradiated product has been no problem at the consumer level. It is mainly retailers and distributors that are still pushing back at times." He added, "Consumer reaction has been indifferent. Given the right quality and price consumers will buy regardless of the treatment. The consumer disclosure through the radura symbol has not been any sort of "deterrent" as some retailers still feel it might. Neither does it present an attractive attribute to the end consumer as some of the scientific community or industry sometimes claim. It seems that consumers trust the process and look what's appealing to them in the marketplace regardless to how it got there."
México has already seen USDA approval introduction of most perishables that could be grown and treated by irradiation. Arved predicts that from now it will be less known products at niche volumes that will provide a good commercial opportunity for the individual grower. He says, "We are hoping for some additional growth on the high volume perishables that have alternative treatments but this has proven to be a complex market to get into largely for reasons that fall outside the scope of what irradiation does."
Mexico was one of the first countries to sign the USDA's Framework Equivalency Work Plan (FEWP). This agreement allows US producers to access Mexican markets as well as vice-versa. The first commercial consignment of US produce irradiated as a phytosanitary treatment at Gateway America, Gulfport, Mississippi was exported to Mexico in 2015.

As far as working with USDA, Arved says, "While it sometimes takes longer than industry would like to get USDA approval and additional regulations passed, in general the cooperation has been focused on continuous improvement and kinking out the smaller details into the work plan to a degree that we can now treat efficiently and effectively without sacrificing phytosanitary safe guarding."
Arved believes that commercial business success stories will help increase interest in phyrosanitary irradiation.  He says, "Irradiation isn't a purpose on its own, its a means to an end. Once people are clear about how they can make money using irradiation, they will start using it more. Outbreaks of food borne illness always provide a hike in interest with facilities like ours, but those are short lived until the problem is patched up elsewhere and this really isn't the business we are actively seeking out."
What does the future hold for irradiation of food? Arved believes that it is important that US growers start using this tool in their own export programs be it to Asia, México or elsewhere. He says, "The industry has really been sleepy there. There are several great cases like Washington Apples or South Carolina and Georgia stone fruit exported to México or cherries going to Asia where irradiation would really provide logistical advantages that would result in tangible competitive advantages for the US. Unfortunately the work-plan currently restricts users to few commodities and select facilities none of which are logistically accessible and allowing product to be irradiated in the receiving country would be an easy fix." The US already allows Mexican exporters to irradiate in the US so deregulating treatment location for US exports would be a logical step to accomplish trade equivalence.

Learn more about Benebion ...
MYTH of the MONTH: "Any commercial irradiator can be used for any food irradiation process.By Russell Stein
"Any commercial irradiator can be used for any food irradiation process."

Technically true.  Economically uncomfortable.

Goldilocks was presented with various choices of meals and lodging.  Most of these choices provided nourishment and rest.  However, only one of each of the options was "just right".
Many food and non-food products are irradiated.  The properties of these products vary greatly as does the purpose of irradiating these products.  Further, the logistics for handling different products vary from one industry to another and even from one company to another.  It is important that the design, location and operation of the irradiator is "just right" to minimize costs, or at least right enough to make the use of a facility economically feasible.
The following are some of the key product and process variables that factor into the type of irradiator that would minimize costs:
Dose:  There are many different reasons for irradiating different products.  To achieve the desired effect, different doses are required.  For example, to stop potatoes from sprouting, a minimum dose of as little as 30 Gray is required.  However, NASA requires a minimum dose of 44,000 Gray to irradiate meat for astronauts.  Imagine an irradiator with a continuous conveyor system optimized to irradiate the astronaut's meals.  To process potatoes in that same irradiator would require the conveyor to travel roughly 1,500 times faster.  There might be ways of running the potatoes, but they would not be optimal.  Similarly, irradiating the astronaut's turkey would take 1,500 times longer when processed in an irradiator designed for potatoes.

Density: The density of different products varies greatly. Generally speaking, as the density of the product increases, the penetration of the radiation through the product becomes more difficult. In essence, the inside of the product is shielded by the outside of the product. The effect of this shielding is a function of density. This property ultimately affects the dose uniformity throughout the product. It can be compensated for by configuring the thickness of the product being irradiated, but that might affect how the product is normally handled and thus not optimal. For many products, dose uniformity is not an issue. However, for some
products, such as food, dose uniformity is a major factor. The design of the irradiator is dependent on the dose uniformity requirements of the products serviced. Another role that density plays in the design of an irradiator is related to how the product is conveyed through the irradiator. Higher density products are, by definition, heavier for the same volume of material. A conveyor system designed for high density (heavy) products could be used for both high and low density products. However, the construction of physically stronger conveyor systems requires more and heavier structural components. These conveyor components will absorb a portion of the radiation intended for the product. For this, and similar reasons, a unit designed for heavy products will not treat low density products as efficiently as an irradiator designed specifically for low density products. On the flip side, to run the same volume containers of high density products in a low density irradiator would overload the conveyor system's weight limits. Smaller volumes of the high density product could be run, but this would not be optimal.

Flexibility: Dose and density are key factors in the design of an irradiator. There are many more. Ideally an irradiator would be solely designed and optimized for one product at one dose, one density, one package size/configuration, and the specific production volume of that product to run the irradiator 24/7/365. [An irradiator designer's dream!] Unfortunately, for the irradiator designer, the current food products being irradiated do not have the production volumes for a dedicated unit. So, some flexibility needs to be incorporated into the design of irradiators to accommodate similar products and similar processes. The irradiation of
perishable foods presents new issues that require greater design flexibility. The current logistics of perishable foods dictate that irradiators need to be able to run both very small and very large lots of products and to be able to efficiently change from one product
to another. For some perishable foods such as fruits and vegetables, seasonality becomes a major factor. Generally speaking, the more flexible the design and operation of an irradiator, the higher the costs.

A commercial irradiator that can be used for any process will not be as viable as an irradiator dedicated to one specific product. But an irradiator designed for one specific food product would not currently be commercially viable.

When Goldilocks looks for an irradiator to process her porridge, she needs to factor in the specific processing and logistics of her porridge and determine what is "just right".

Russell N. Stein
Catania Worldwide gears up for Mexican fig exports; Fresh Fruit Portal; (October 28, 2015):
Ontario-based Catania Worldwide plans to double its Mexican fig imports in 2015-16, but this year they won't only be going to Canada.  
Paul Catania of Catania Worldwide in Canada will be marketing irradiated Mexican figs and other fruit in the US

During the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit in Atlanta company owner Paul Catania told he expected the first shipments to 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. "As the deal is brand new to us in the United States we're still trying to dial everything in. I'm walking a bit of a tightrope because people are asking, 'when do you start? How much can I have?'" he said

"The one thing I don't want to do is make promises to customers both in Canada and the U.S. and not deliver.

"This season [from Mexico] we'll be running black mission figs only - next season I will have green figs and tiger figs available as the trees mature."

While in Canada the fruit does not need to be irradiated, the treatment is necessary for the U.S. market under APHIS's guidelines.

"With the irradiation process, some people may not want irradiated fruits because the connotation of irradiation, but really it doesn't damage the fruit - it's like getting an x-ray at the doctor or the dentist," Catania said.

"The irradiation process is basically to protect from Medfly infestations. It doesn't even kill the Medfly; it sterilizes it so that it can't breed. It's as simple as that."

He said the figs were grown on Catania's leased land in Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City.
"We've tried to get to farm differently, somewhat similar to what we do in California, so we're pruning and tipping the trees to try and bring the fruit on at a certain time, using the same technology we use in California with our Californian farmers overseeing them.
"We do limes all year round, we do kiwifruit all year round, and very soon we're going to have figs very close to all year round, of course along with my figs in California during the summer months.
Also in the News: Ghana government recommends irradiation to reduce crop losses; Ghana Graphic (November 2, 2015)
Abraham Adu-Gyamfi (center), Manager of the Radiation Technology Centre in Ghana, with technicians at the gamma irradiation facility.
(Photo: Ghana Radiation Technology Centre)
The Director General of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), Professor B.J.B. Nyarko, has recommended that Ghana adopts the irradiation process in agriculture to reduce post-harvest losses and improve quality of food products for the domestic and export markets.

Irradiation,he said was the exposure of food to x-rays for the purpose of protecting it from insect or microbial contamination, and providing it with extension of shelf life and delayed ripening.

"Every year the state records about 30-50 per cent losses in agricultural products and that affects the country's revenue which could be used for its development ," 
he said. Prof. Nyarko stated that the level of post-harvest losses in the country had affected incomes of smallholder farmers and the ability of large-scale producers and exporters to operate at full capacity.

Agreement signed

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 municipality. The facility would prevent food from being infested by insects, being contaminated, delay ripening and also extend its shelf life.

Prof. Nyarko said the project would benefit those in agriculture, agro-processing and export of agricultural produce in the Agona Swedru Municipality and its environs. The partnership, he further stated, would ensure sustainable and profitable irradiation services that would boost output of farmers and enhance national development.

Support for the project
The Chief Executive of ASMA, Mr Samuel Opong, commended GAEC for the initiative and called on the government and its stakeholders to support in funding the project. He said the initiative would address the challenges Ghana faced recently in its export of agricultural produce to the European market.
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 ... 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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