Food Irradiation Updates

Published by Ronald F. Eustice and sponsored  by GRAY*STAR Inc.
October 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
No one likes fruit flies. They're those little pests that fly around your garbage or decaying food. Scientifically speaking, this species of fly is referred to as Drosophila melanogaster. South Florida is dealing with these nasty critters in swarms; masses of little fruit flies that could cost the state up to $1.6 billion. State officials have quarantined 85 miles worth of agricultural spaces due to the flies attack on a variety of 400 crops. Officials found 160 oriental fruit flies in Redland, in Miami-Dade County, South Florida, which is now under quarantine until January 2016 and will cost the county up to $700 million if the problem can't be solved. There have been 75 fruit fly incursions in Florida since 1999. Fortunately, this has left the team prepared for future problems. Florida officials have decades worth of science, research and experience in dealing with fruit flies. This time, irradiation is one of the tools that will help protect Florida farmers from a disaster. Read more below.

FEATURED ARTICLE: Florida fruit fly outbreak; Irradiation helped "save the day"!  By Ronald F. Eustice
The Oriental Fruit Fly is considered one of the most aggressive insect pests in the world.
DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: In August, an outbreak of oriental fruit flies was 
discovered in southern Florida. This is the largest outbreak in Florida's history. More than 85 acres of crops have been quarantined and the livelihood of hundreds of farmers has been threatened. The outbreak has the potential to seriously impact Florida's $1.6 billion agriculture industry.

The oriental fruit fly is blamed for heavy damage to mangoes in the Philippines and citrus in Japan, and was first detected in mid-August when a single male turned up in a trap in a tropical almond tree east of the Redland. Within two weeks, another fly popped up more than 13 miles away, followed by an even more alarming catch: 45 in a single trap. Since then more than 100 additional insects have been discovered.

Considered one of the world's most aggressive fruit flies, the pest attacks more than 430 different fruits, vegetables and nuts, including avocados, mangoes and tomatoes. The outbreak has the potential to devastate Florida's $1.6 billion agriculture industry.

While the fly has been detected -- and contained -- about 10 times since it first appeared in Florida in 1964, numbers never amounted to more than a dozen or so at a time.

Several Florida growers are now processing their product at Gateway America using irradiation as a phytosanitary treatment.

Gateway America, the growers, APHIS, and the various states involved worked together to get through the paperwork and logistics virtually overnight to use irradiation to handle this emergency. 

Irradiation has saved the day for various growers to date and potentially more to come.
This is potentially setting the pattern so that future "emergencies" may be partially mitigated using irradiation.

Oriental fruit fly distribution

MYTH of the MONTH: Food Irradiation" By Russell Stein
"Food Irradiation"

The term "Food Irradiation" has no practical meaning.
"Food" is not irradiated. However, specific products, which are consumed as food, are irradiated for specific purposes.

A company that produces ground beef purchases an irradiator. Their plan is
to irradiate their final packaged product to minimize the health threat of food borne pathogens for their customers. Do they become a Food Irradiation company? No, they are still a Meat Processing company.

A foreign company installs an irradiator to irradiate fruit for export to the United States. The purpose of the irradiator is to disinfest mangoes to assure that there are no viable insect pests that may potentially harm US crops. Are they a Food Irradiation company? No, they are a Fruit Exporter.

I want to have hamburgers tonight. I am going to go to my favorite market. There I am going to look for hamburger patties. Personally, I prefer the added safety assurance of purchasing irradiated patties, so if they have both irradiated and non-irradiated hamburgers in stock, I will purchase the irradiated burgers.

If they only have non-irradiated hamburgers for sale, I will still purchase them even if they do have irradiated mangoes on their shelves. I am not going to the store to buy "irradiated food". I am going to the store to buy hamburgers...and perhaps a can of creamed succotash.
Russell N. Stein
Also in the News: Shipments to resume from Florida quarantine area; The Packer, by Andy Nelson (September 24, 2015):
Oriental Fruit Fly (Female)
MIAMI: More oriental fruit flies have been found in Florida's Miami-Dade County, but state and federal efforts to combat the outbreak are working and shipments from a quarantined area are set to resume.

The number of flies found had risen to 159 as of Sept. 22, according to a news release from the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. The first flies were found in mid-August. The department responded by quarantining an 85-square-mile area around the areas where flies were found. On Sept. 15, the agency declared a state of emergency.
Avocados, mangoes and papaya are among fruits hit hardest by the pest.

The quarantine, as well as spraying, trapping and other efforts by both the department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were paying off as of Sept. 22, Adam Putnam, Florida's commissioner of agriculture, who visited the county to meet with growers and other industry members Sept. 21, said in the release.

One grower-shipper, Miami-based J&C Tropicals, expected to resume shipping dragonfruit and other commodities from the quarantine area Sept. 25 or Sept. 26, said Salvador Fernandez, the company's vice president of operations. "We're working with the USDA to complete the protocol for irradiation," Fernandez said Sept. 23. "We're very confident. We've got a good operation set up. But there are some unknowns. This is our first time doing this."
Shippers who source from within the quarantine zone have two options, Fernandez said. One is to follow state and federal protocols for spraying and testing, a course of treatments that runs 30 days. Because that protocol was announced in early September, Fernandez hopes to be able to ship again via that option by early October.

A second alternative is to submit to a more rigorous protocol, which includes having fruit irradiated, Fernandez said. That option allows shippers to ship sooner. J&C plans to do that for some dragonfruit, passion fruit and some other commodities, but the cost and complexity of the option prohibits the company from doing it for all of its fruit within the quarantine zone, Fernandez said.

Many of the small growers J&C packs for in the area could be hit hard as a result. About 80% of the Florida-grown produce J&C ships at this time of year is grown within the quarantine zone, he said. "It's affected us quite a bit. Our locally-grown program is very important." As of Sept. 23, Fernandez was not aware of any fruit fly finds in any of its growers' fields within the quarantine zone.

Homestead, Fla.-based Unity Groves Corp. sources avocados, dragonfruit, guava, star fruit and other fruits from the quarantine area, said Louie Carricarte, president. Fortunately, he said, the company has enough production of those fruits outside the quarantine area to supply customers. Also on the plus side, Unity Groves' packing shed is outside the area. That said, the quarantine has definitely had an effect on volumes, though Carricarte couldn't give an estimate.

"It's had a pretty negative impact. Everything that was ready for harvest is basically a loss."
Unity Groves is participating in the spraying protocol and hopes to be able to ship again from inside the quarantine area by the second week of October. As of Sept. 23, the company was not shipping irradiated fruit because of the cost, Carricarte said.
Also in the News: Florida growers debate aerial spraying to eliminate fruit fies; By Alex Harris; Miami Herald (September 21, 2015)
Oriental fruit fly outbreak is a serious threat to Florida's multi-million dollar agriculture industry. 
Aerial pesticide spray may be the next step in South Florida's fight against the Oriental fruit fly, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam told a crowd of nearly 100 farmers Monday in Homestead. Still at question is when to spray.
Many of the growers Monday, whose tomatoes, avocados, strawberries and other crops are threatened by the invasive fruit fly, questioned why spraying will not begin immediately.
If scientists find a pregnant female, find larvae or see the numbers of flies in traps rise, 

Putnam said the state will likely begin aerially spraying GF-120, an insecticide approved for organic farming, which he called the "last, best bullet in the gun." But angry growers, concerned about their livelihoods, grilled the commissioner. They want spraying done before the fly spreads any farther than the 85-mile quarantine in Redland, Florida.
"It's ludicrous we haven't already begun arial spraying," one grower said. "If this thing isn't controlled, you'll destroy a county."
Dr. Trevor Smith, division director of plant industry at the Florida Department of Agriculture, told the crowd that aerial spraying wouldn't eradicate larvae already in crops, so scientists are sticking with the current pheremone and insecticide-laced traps for now.
Putnam said he sent a team to Washington, D.C. to negotiate with the Environmental Protection Agency for clearance to use the pesticide Malathion for hand-spraying crops before harvest. Malathion was aerially sprayed to fight Mediterranean fruit flies in outbreaks in California in 1989 and Hillsborough County in 1997.
In large doses, Malathion can cause nausea, dizziness and confusion, but the EPA has approved the pesticide for aerial spraying over residential areas for insect control. "They will cut and paste the protocol they have for Malathion in California and give it to us," Putnam said.
But, he noted, the California protocol doesn't include every crop grown in South Florida. Putnam said those exceptions are being negotiated and could be approved "as early as next week."
Organic farmers at the meeting expressed concerns about the spraying of Malathion, which would invalidate their organic status and put them out of business for at least three years, according to one grower.
What Putnam called "by far the largest outbreak we've had in this state's history," could seriously impact the $1.6 billion agriculture industry in Miami-Dade County.
Scientists found one fruit fly since the state of agricultural emergency went into effect Sept. 15, bringing the total count to 159 flies in the South Florida outbreak.
Growers have signed compliance agreements, which signal their willingness to aid the state eradication effort. This includes spraying their crops with insecticide every six to 10 days and potentially destroying infected crops. More than 8 tons of fruits and vegetables have been destroyed so far as a result of the South Florida outbreak.

"We have zero flexibility to help if we don't have that compliance agreement in place," Putnam told the crowd.

Joe DeSousa, a farmer with land in the affected area, asked Putnam if there was any compensation planned for the farmers who lose their livelihoods in the eradication effort.
"Not so much for profit," DeSousa said. "But for investment in the next round, we plant. We're dying down here."

Putnam acknowledged there was nothing in place but didn't rule out future compensation.
Paul Hornby, state plant health director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plant protection and quarantine, said Florida has had 75 fruit fly incursions since 1999, leaving his team well versed in the procedures. "We are good at this," he said. "We have decades worth of science, research and experience."

Other methods of attack include post-harvest irradiation. So far, only a single shipment of possibly infected dragonfruit was sent to Mississippi for irradiation. Putnam mentioned he was negotiating with Food Technology Service Inc, a medical irradiation plant in Mulberry, Florida, to take on crop irradiation if need be.
If no additional flies are found, the quarantine is set to end Jan 18. "I hope we're not dealing with this a year from now, but we will be dealing with this 120 days from now," Putnam said.

Also in the News: Irradiation as an alternative to fumigation; Crop Protection News (September 22, 2015):
Irradiation has become the preferred method to eliminate harmful insect pests in Hawaii
U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Peter Follett has been working for nearly 20 years to develop and expand the use of ionizing radiation to control insects that infest a range of agricultural commodities so that Hawaii can safely send these products to the U.S. mainland and export them to foreign countries.

Hawaii currently irradiates a number of crops it exports, including papaya, mangoes, bananas, dragon fruit and longan, a small circular fruit grown by the tree of the same name.

Most recently, Follett and his colleagues have worked to develop irradiation protocols to use on insects that infest Hawaiian commodities such as coffee and ornamental flowers. They have also been working to protect others, such as table grapes and a variety of berries grown in California.

"[Irradiation] is the most prominent technology that we're using to export fruit to the U.S. [mainland] from Hawaii," Follett, who works at the U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, Hawaii, said. 

Since starting work for the ARS, Follett has helped develop irradiation techniques to control a range of agricultural pests, including the mango seed weevil, the oriental fruit fly, the Mediterranean fruit fly and the melon fly. 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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