Food Irradiation Updates

Published by Ronald F. Eustice and sponsored  by GRAY*STAR Inc.
October  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: and at 612.202.1016.

In a few days, my wife Margaret and I will leave our native Minnesota for our lovely home in Tucson, Arizona where we spend each winter. Like most middle class Americans we live comfortably yet we know that hunger and poverty exist far and wide. There are long lines waiting for handouts at Caring and Sharing in North Minneapolis and the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul. In Tucson, homeless spend their nights sleeping in public parks with no roof over their heads. In the World's "bread basket", hunger, obesity and poverty are clearly evident. Millions go to bed hungry every night, yet much of our abundant food supply is wasted. What can we do about it? Read this article, it may change your life!

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FEATURED ARTICLE:  Why so much hunger in a World of plenty? What can we do about it?  By Ronald F. Eustice
Why so much hunger in a World of plenty? What can we do about it?

By Ronald F. Eustice


Global population will exceed 9 billion by 2050, up from some 7 billion people on earth today. Thanks to  modern technology, improved genetics, sustainable management and environmental stewardship, farmers, growers and ranchers are producing more food than at any time in history. 


A growing wave of food insecurity threatens more than 1 billion people around the world. Global food costs are growing to dangerous levels, reaching record highs in January 2011. And these prices are expected to persist, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


We are at a crossroads:

In the past threeyears, the global economic recession has decreased consumer buying power and increased food insecurity. In the near future, tight supplies and rising food prices may stretch an already extended system to the breaking point. 


During the 1960's and seventies the "Green Revolution" used science and technology to increase yields and helped make many countries in the developing world technically self sufficient in food production. Importing countries such as India, Mexico and many others became net exporters. Hybrid seeds combined with responsible use of chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation produced yields previously considered impossible. While the Green Revolution remains a "work in progress" in certain regions of the world (mainly sub-Saharan Africa) significant progress has been made.


Despite record food production, more than 100 million join the ranks of the world's hungry each year. The rise in global population coincides with an increase in world hunger. No longer is the number of hungry people steadily decreasing. In fact, the number of malnourished could grow staggeringly as the population reaches 9 billion by mid-century. 


Why are so many hungry in a world of plenty?

There are many reasons-ranging from poverty and politics to food waste, spoilage and infrastructure issues. But morally, it's unacceptable. A recent United Nations report estimates that more than one billion people consume less than 1800 calories per day and go to bed hungry every night. 


Hunger and Obesity:

The face of hunger has changed, so has the address. The suburbs are the home of the American dream, but they are also the place of rising poverty. With expensive housing and rising food costs, the working poor have been pushed out. Today hunger in the suburbs is growing faster than in cities, having more than doubled since 2007. Obesity is endemic in America and many other countries. 


How can hungry people be obese? So called "fast food" is cheap and convenient. Hungry people go to what's convenient when they have money to eat. Too often the choices are high on saturated fats, carbohydrates and salt and low on fruits, vegetables and low-fat proteins. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.


The percentage of children aged 6-11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12-19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period. According to the CDC, In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents in America were overweight or obese. Overweight and obesity are the result of "caloric imbalance"-too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed-and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.


We must not over simplify a complex situation. Certainly the global economic situation has made certain foods less affordable for a sizeable portion of the world's population. Political instability, civil strife, drought, and unreliable distribution systems have all exacerbated the situation. While the weather, politics and inadequate distribution systems are mostly beyond our control, we do have resources available to help us improve the situation.


Just as the Green Revolution used science to feed a hungry world, it is imperative that we once again look to technology to prevent a global food crisis. We must continue to rely on innovations available while seeking to identify new and unter-utilized paractices to feed more people. 


Post harvest food loss in Africa represents a multi-faceted challenge that reduces the income of approximately 470 million farmers and other value chain participants by as much as 15% (The Rockefeller Foundation 2013). 


A recent study released by the United Nations Environment Program shows that over half of the food produced globally is lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain. 


Losses and food waste in the United States could be as high as 50 percent, according to some recent estimates. Up to one-quarter of all fresh fruits and vegetables in the United States is lost between the field and the table.  While relatively simple approaches exist to reduce post harvest loss, such as improved handling of perishable crops, currently no proven intervention is routinely used to mitigate this issue at a scale sufficient to dramatically improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people affected by it. 


Current treatments designed to prevent spoilage include the use of fumigants, chemical washes and pesticides. These are surface treatments that can leave chemical residues on the skins. Some of these are potentially harmful and importing countries, including the USA, Japan and many in Europe, have banned the use of several common fumigants such as ethylene dibromide, ethylene dichloride and ethylene oxide.  The fumigant most widely used today is methyl bromide (MeBr) which is highly ozone depleting. 


The time has come to take a serious look at food irradiation as a routine practice that is one of the most effective tools to alleviate world hunger. Irradiation which uses energy supplied by gamma rays, electron beams or x-rays, is a cost effective and environmentally-friendly technology that has the potential to do more to prevent food spoilage and alleviate hunger than any other technology we have available. 


In addition to controlling pests and eliminating harmful bacteria, irradiation extends the storage life of many foods. This effect makes irradiation particularly useful for fruits which are commonly infested and also require extended shelf-life in order to be shipped long distances to reach consumer markets in good quality. 


Although irradiation is often clearly a superior technology, there are certain factors that currently limits its use. Primarily among these are: 1) lack of regulatory approvals, 2) labeling issues, 3) lack of consumer information and understanding, 4) the wide dissemination of false and incorrect information regarding irradiation, and 5) accessibility to logistically viable facilities.


Every minute we delay is another minute during which 12 children will die from hunger. This is morally wrong, given that solutions exist. Facts support a more hopeful future where the consumer's right to choose and the farmer's right to use safe efficient and effective technologies are protected and the moral imperative of feeding the world is finally achieved.


Countries such as India, Malaysia, Nigeria and dozens of others have officially identified food irradiation as a focal point to alleviate rising food prices and hunger. 


Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket chain completed a study in 2013 that revealed that up to two thirds of supermarket food ends up in the bin. Tesco found that 68 per cent of its bagged salads, 48 per cent of its bakery goods and 24 per cent of its grapes go to waste. 


Much of the food is thrown away by customers - but large amounts are lost because of lack of freshness. Yet more produce had to be ditched before it even reaches shelves. A study by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers found up to half the food bought from supermarkets goes in the waste bin.


Consumer aaceptance of irradiated food is not the issue:

Consumers readily choose irradiated foods when they are available and when they are informed about the technology. The amount of irradiated produce marketed in the US and worldwide is growing daily. Estimates are that in 2012 an estimated 18,000 metric tons (40 million pounds) of irradiated fresh produce were consumed in the US. This volume includes papaya, longans, lychees and Okinawa sweet potatoes from Hawaii, mangoes, guavas and boniato sweet potatoes from Florida, mangoes from India and Mexico, guavas from Mexico, dragon fruit from Vietnam and other items. In Australia, the volume of irradiated produce has grown significantly.  More than 1,000 metric tons of mangoes were irradiated in 2011/12 compared to 300 metric ton the previous season. These products are being exported to New Zealand. Thailand irradiated 2,100 metric tons of produce (mangosteen, rambutan, lychee) in 2009 compared to 1,400 in 2008. China leads the world in food irradiation with over 200,000 metric tons of food irradiated annually.


While irradiation is being used to protect public health by eliminating harmful bacteria and to access new markets by destroying unwanted pests, there is a growing need to use irradiation as a tool to prevent food spoilage by extending shelf life of produce and other foods. 


The Real Cost of Wasted Food:

When spoiled food is thrown in the garbage, the cost is much more than the price of the food. We must also calculate the cost to produce the food and transport it to market. The cost also includes the price of land to grow the crop; seed, fertilizer, labor and petroleum to plant the crop; water to irrigate the land, harvesting costs and the cost of transportation to market. With 30 to 50 percent of the food we produce worldwide being wasted, the time has come to find real solutions to a very real problem. 


Efforts to reduce world hunger and prevent a global food crisis must take a multi-pronged approach. We must expand the Green Revolution to regions of the world most affected by famine such as sub-Saharan Africa; we must improve the distribution infrastructure in developing countries; and we must use food irradiation on a routine basis to extend food freshness, inhibit sprouting and reduce food losses due to bacterial contamination and subsequent recalls.  Food irradiation will protect public health by reducing or eliminating harmful bacteria in meat, poultry and produce and irradiation will save food by slowing the spoilage process by extending freshness and the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. 


Link to PDF of this article

"Irradiation is a food additive."

"Irradiation is a food additive."



Legally true.  Technically false!

In 1958 the US Congress passed an Amendment to the Food, Drugs, and Cosmetic Act to address the safety of food additives.  The Act directed the Food and Drug Administration to determine that an additive was safe before allowing its use in food.


Food Irradiation is the process exposing food to ionizing energy (accelerated electrons, gamma photons or x-ray photons).  The radiation energy passes through the food.  As the energy enters the product, it can: hit an electron of an atom, hit the nucleus of an atom or miss all of the atoms of the product.  When it hits an electron, it can knock that electron off of the atom creating a chemical effect (ionization).  When it hits an electron, some of the radiation energy is transferred to that electron and it also becomes an accelerated electron.   If the radiation hits the nucleus of an atom, it will transfer all or part of its energy to that nucleus.  Since the radiation does not have an energy level high enough to effect the nucleus of an atom, the nucleus is unaffected other than being shaken up a bit.  The initial radiation and the electrons that were knocked off of the atoms will continue to pass through the product until they either impart all of their energy through collisions with electrons and nuclei; or fly out of the product and impart all of their remaining energy to the shielding of the irradiator. 


Ultimately, all of the radiation energy is transferred to the product or the irradiator's shielding.  As mentioned earlier, it transfers the high energy, from the photons or accelerated electrons, to shaking up the nuclei of the atoms it encounters along the way.  A slightly more technical term for "shaking up" is "heating".  All of the radiation energy is converted to heat energy.  Although the radiation energy is high enough to knock electrons off of the atoms (a chemical effect), it does not have enough energy to effect the nucleus of an atom and therefore cannot make an atom radioactive (a nuclear effect).


The net result is that the irradiation only leaves a small amount of heat in the food. (Typically raising the temperature around one degree for perishable foods). 


Heat is not considered a food additive.  Heating a food is considered a process.  Therefore, technically food irradiation is a process and not an additive.


However, back in 1958, Congress realized that there was both a lot of interest in using radiation processing for food and concern over whether or not there were any safety issues regarding its use.  Clearly, the irradiation process was not technically an additive, but the Act before them was specific to additives.  They chose an overly simple solution...just legally define the irradiation process as an additive.


Irradiation is the only food process that has had to have its safety determined prior to commercial use.  Many other food processes that we use every day, such as cooking, might not be approved using the same rigorous safety standards as those applied to irradiation. 


So, I guess one could say:  Irradiation - Pre-approved as a safe food additive without adding anything to the food.


Russell N. Stein



Jamaican Mangoes soon to be on US supermarket shelves. (September 29, 2014):
Irradiated Jamaican mangoes are scheduled to reach US supermarket shelves soon.
KINGSTON, JAMAICA:  Effective October 20, 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cleared the way for the export of Jamaican mangoes to the United States (US). This is, however, subject to the compliance with standards required by the United States Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS), and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is working with farmers to meet the import requirements.


In his comments on the export clearance, Acting Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Hon Derrick Kellier, has welcomed the development. He said that Jamaica was happy that the country's negotiations with the US have borne fruit and gave the assurance  that the Ministry will do everything in its power to ensure that mango farmers and exporters meet the requirements for exports.


Explaining the process necessary to satisfy the conditions for export, Chief Plant Quarantine/Produce Inspector in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Mrs Shelia Harvey, says that in accordance with these standards, USDA-APHIS requires treatment of the mangoes by irradiation or hot water immersion and adherence to a range of precautionary measures. Among the measures are that:

1. the mangoes have to be produced in orchards in accordance with a systems approach employing a combination of mitigation measures for certain fruit flies, soft scale insects, and diseases. Mango shipments would have to be inspected prior to exportation from Jamaica and found free of these pests and diseases
2. the mangoes have to be exported  in commercial consignments only and would have to be treated to mitigate the risk of fruit flies and
3. the mangoes also have to be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate.


Mrs Harvey says that irradiation is the process through which the fruits are treated using a form of energy called ionizing radiation. The process involves exposing food, either in bulk or packaged, to gamma rays for a specified amount of time. This process sterilizes the pest so they are not capable of reproducing. This treatment would have to be done in the USA and there is a protocol to be followed with certain conditions such as the consignment would have to be shrink-wrapped all the way to the irradiation facility in the USA. If one live pest is found, she said, the consignment would be rejected here in Jamaica.

Link to article... 

Jamaican mangoes: Read more here...

World Health Organization measures cost of listeria; By James Andrews Food Safety News (October 2, 2014):
Listeria infected over 23 thousand people in the world last year.
Nearly 5500 of them died.

VIENNA: In 2010, Listeria monocytogenes was estimated to infect 23,150 people worldwide. It killed 5,463 of them, or 23.6 percent, according to a new study by European researchers in the World Health Organization (WHO) published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The researchers say that an urgent effort is needed to fill in information on Listeria infections in developing countries, as countries accounting for 48 percent of the world's population do not report Listeria illnesses.

The study, "The Global Burden of Listeriosis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis" aimed to be the first of its kind to estimate the global numbers of illnesses, deaths, and disability-adjusted life-years due to Listeria infections.

While not as common as foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli, Listeria is one of the most deadly and adaptable bacteria found in food. Unlike those pathogens, Listeria can grow at refrigeration temperatures and in low-moisture environments.

Of those who fell ill with Listeria in 2010, 20.7 percent were pregnant women. The bacteria affect pregnant women at disproportionate rates and can cause severe complications with pregnancies, including stillbirth and miscarriage.

Among the pregnant women who suffered Listeria infections, 14.9 percent of the infections resulted in infant fatality.

Other populations especially susceptible to Listeria infections include the elderly, immunocompromised individuals, and children. While the bacteria often just cause mild gastrointestinal illness in healthy adults, they can lead to severe, life-threatening illness in anyone with a weakened or developing immune system.

Most Listeria cases are reported in high-income countries, while cases are much more likely to go unreported in developing countries. Because of its high hospitalization rate in the U.S., it's the third most costly foodborne pathogen, behind Clostridium botulinum (botulism) and Vibrio vulnificus.

The researchers found that Listeria caused the highest burden on quality of life in Latin American regions. The least affected region was Eastern Europe, stretching from Poland to Turkey. Other highly affected areas included Southeast Asia, Africa, Polynesia and India.

Link to article...

Consumers are misled about organic food safety and quality, By John Block, Des Moines Register (October 8, 2014):

Every day millions of shoppers are paying out as much as 50 or 100 percent more to buy organic foods for

John Block
Former US Secretary of Agriculture

themselves and their families. I have friends who make these choices because they have no reason to question claims on labels, in advertising and on social media that organic foods are safer, healthier and more nutritious.

One thing they will not read on any label is a new finding from Academics Review, a group of scientists dedicated to testing popular claims against peer-reviewed science.

The scientists' conclusion based on U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported recall information: Organic foods are four to eight times more likely to be recalled than conventional foods for safety issues like bacterial contamination. Nor will consumers see anywhere a reference to the body of peer-reviewed research finding that organic foods are no more nutritious than foods produced by conventional agriculture.


Why are consumers so misinformed? This is not an unimportant problem. It's dangerous. The very people most likely to seek out organic food for its purported safety - the elderly, pregnant women, parents of young children and people with compromised immune systems - are most at risk from organic's higher risk of contaminants, including deadly e-coli.


As Academics Review founder Bruce Chassy, a professor of food microbiology at the University of Illinois, recently reported to a professional trade association, not only is the federal government failing to require that the organic food industry state these risks to consumers. It also allows organic companies to make unfounded safety claims that, if they were made by any other industry, would attract the ire of federal regulators.


Lacking such scrutiny, the organic industry appears to have adopted "black marketing" against conventionally grown foods as its core strategy. The Natural Marketing Institute admitted as much when it reported that "the safety message is a clear driver" of organic sales. A marketing executive for a major organic company was little blunter: "You can, and perhaps should, lead with fear as an industry."


The industry does, in fact, lead with fear. The websites, social media, product packaging, marketing materials and annual reports of organic food companies are full of fear-based advertising against conventional farming. Even more hysterical claims about conventional foods are pushed in food scare campaigns run by NGOs funded by the organic foods industry, as well as by allied natural food and health companies.

In the midst of such claims, where do consumers turn for reliable information? They trust federal regulators to give them the straight scoop based on science. Yet even here, the federal government is passively complicit in allowing unscientific claims to mislead consumers. Exhibit A in federal complicity is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified Organic label.

USDA's research shows that more than 70 percent of consumers are likely to believe a food is safer, more nutritious or of higher quality if it bears the organic label. In fact, all the label signifies is that a given food has been grown, handled and processed without many of the modern techniques of conventional agriculture.

The label does not even mean that a certain food was grown without pesticides. Organic foods are routinely produced with certain kinds of "organic" pesticides. Meanwhile, organic recalls due to bacterial contamination are ballooning along with the expanding market for organic food.


In short, the federal government is strict about science, labeling and claims for all industries except one. The marketers of organic food are allowed to make scientifically false and misleading claims about the safety and wholesomeness of conventional food, while their products are increasingly likely to be recalled for safety reasons.

Federal agencies have a statutory responsibility to crack down on untruthful and misleading claims in food marketing. They also have a responsibility to warn consumers about real dangers.

The findings by Academics Review raise a number of questions federal regulators should have to answer. 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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