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Irradiation Recap

Mars Space Mission Has Many Opportunities For Produce And Packaging Innovation finds the organization doing most of the basic research needed to develop a food system that can take humans to Mars, keep them there for an extended mission and then bring them home is NASA. Recently, we learned that plans for Mars include the idea of growing food within the habitat that will be established on Mars and allowing astronauts to cook in a way they could not on other missions. We thought we would find out how NASA thinks this would all work. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Michele Perchonok, PhD of the Advanced Food Technology Project Scientist at NASA. 2/9/2012

As The European E. coli 0104:H4 Outbreak Causes Illness And Death, It Wreaks Havoc On The Produce Trade And Breaks Confidence In Public Health: Lessons From Europe reports that our brethren in the European produce trade have suffered enormous damages as a result of the food safety crisis related to E. coli 0104:H4. One unfortunate part is that public health epidemiologists have come across like the Keystone Cops. Sitting in America, with very little information we are in no position to identify the source of the outbreak. We will see how the situation develops, but there are some valuable lessons that are already evident. One of them is that the failure of public health authorities to demand the use of irradiation is evidence of a politically influenced establishment that is not, in fact, putting public health first. 6/7/2011

Space: The Final Frontier For Fresh Produce? saw that just before Christmas, NASA sent a note describing the meals that astronauts would have available to them over their holiday in Space. We wondered what role fresh produce served in the diet of astronauts. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Vickie Kloeris, Manager of the International Space Station Food System at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. We found that while irradiated meat makes it aboard, irradiated produce does not. 2/9/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — Letters Pour In On CSPI’s Highly Deceptive Riskiest Foods List heard that after the CSPI report came out, someone asked the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, what he thought about the report. He responded this way: “Until we get the number of foodborne illnesses down to zero, and the number of hospitalizations down to zero, and the number of deaths down to zero, we still have work to do.” Unfortunately these kinds of platitudes have come to substitute for thought in our government today. Those words are virtually useless as a guide to policy and, in fact, he doesn’t even mean it. Notice, he didn’t say that we need to irradiate anything we can, although that would, without doubt, make many foods completely safe. This is because whatever value he places on reducing foodborne illness, it is less than he places on avoiding angering people who don’t like irradiation. 10/16/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Irradiation Risks reexamines irradiation, which is a topic of great interest to the industry, especially since the FDA has approved its use for pathogen reduction on iceberg lettuce and spinach. Our recent piece Irradiation Kickstart, brought a note from one of the Pundit’s most thoughtful correspondents, Bob Sanderson of Jonathans Sprouts, who often raises intriguing questions that have featured in many Mailbags before. In this case we thought Bob’s questions concerning irradiation of food and its effect on bacteria and on humans who consume it were sufficiently intriguing to lead us to ask Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to, once again, speak with Dr. Jeffrey Barach and try to get some clarification. 12/3/2008

Irradiation And Consumer Acceptance admits that although there are many technical issues with regard to irradiation — what dose, what packaging, logistics, cost, etc. — one of the key industry concerns is consumer acceptance of irradiated produce, but consumer acceptance of irradiated produce is something of a red herring. To explore this subject more thoroughly we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Christine Bruhn Ph.D., Director of the Center for Consumer Research in the Department for Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis. 10/16/2008

Irradiation Kickstart our recent piece, Disputed Link To Aunt Mid’s Cut Lettuce Reveals Need For Industry Firms To Have Easy Access To Top Epidemiologists, made us think more about irradiation. Because this outbreak is allegedly linked to foodservice and institutional packages of fresh-cut lettuce, some of it was consumed in hospitals and nursing homes by high-risk populations. After the FDA approval of irradiation on spinach and iceberg lettuce, one suspects that those consumers with impaired immune systems would be a ready market. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with the association that pushed this petition before the FDA, as well as representatives of the two main technology choices. 10/15/2008

FDA’s Irradiation Ruling Puts FDA On The Spot explained how we think being able to purchase irradiated hamburger meat is great, but the challenge is that consumers don’t perceive there to be any real risk. The recent news that the FDA has decided to allow irradiation to be used on iceberg lettuce and spinach for the purpose of food safety raises the prospect of the long-sought “kill step” that will ensure food safety. There are some technical issues, but none that can’t be quickly overcome. In the end, irradiation will not take off as long as public health authorities declare the food supply to be safe. We are pleased with the new FDA ruling, now we will learn whether the FDA is serious or this is just PR. 8/28/2008

Pundit Mailbag — Irradiation Safety Clearly Demonstrated shared a letter from Paisan Loaharanu, Adjunct Prof. of Food Safety at Michigan State University on irradiation technology as a food safety measure. We’ve asked about FDA’s failing to approve the produce irradiation petition for nine years and have been told bluntly that the hold-up is political. There is some irony, though, in the FDA, with the left hand demanding zero tolerance on pathogens and with the right hand prohibiting the use of irradiation to get to that point. 7/17/2008

Dr. Michael Osterholm, Esteemed Authority On Public Health, Speaks Frankly About The FDA, The CDC And The Incompetent Management of the Salmonella Saintpaul Tomato Outbreak Investigation prints a magnificent interview with Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, at the University of Minnesota who states: “Clearly one of the options for the produce industry at this point is irradiation.” Everyone wants a kill step, and we’ve run pieces about irradiation regarding possibilities for spinachtomatoes and many other items. Once again, though, we think this requires leadership from the public health community. Why can’t FDA and CDC use these opportunities to point out that consumers could be safeguarded through the use of these technologies? 6/24/2008

Irradiation Holds Promise For Tomato Pathogen Reduction doubtless the industry wants food safety, recognizes the enormous costs of outbreaks and certainly values its customers. “Sensible” approaches are sought whereby the benefits are at least in the league of being proportionate to the costs. Several food safety experts contacted us suggesting tomatoes as an ideal product for irradiating. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Dr. Anuradha Prakash, Professor & Program Director of Food Science at Chapman University. 6/17/2008

Dole’s Schwartz Sheds More Light On Recent Recall learned that recently the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had identified E. coli 0157:H7 on “Dole Hearts Delight” salad mix. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to again speak with Eric Schwartz, President of Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc., in order to gain more perspective on the situation. We yearn for a “kill-step” yet Eric Schwartz says irradiation is not ready and, even if it was, it is problematic. We think we need to accelerate research in this area. 9/21/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Chilled Food Association’s Kaarin Goodburn we’ve scoured the world looking to learn about food safety from other countries, but a primary focus has been the United Kingdom. Now we have asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Kaarin Goodburn, Secretary General of the U.K.-based Chilled Food Association, who tells us that UK consumers are resistant to irradiation as a food safety measure, which we find troubling. 7/4/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Economics Of Irradiation discusses a note from Warren Debnam
President of Green Glen Produce who thinks irradiation is all fine and dandy, but viability depends on economics. The American Nuclear Institute says irradiation can be expensive but in line with other food processing techniques. If there are a few more outbreaks the FDA is likely to make it mandatory, much as most states require pasteurization of milk. Includes analysis of costs and comparison with traditional measures. 6/29/2007

Compelling Irradiation Video asks if you would take four minutes out of your life to watch an NBC video with dramatic footage of executives at Sadex Corp, including Harlan Clemmons, President of the company, eating salad after it has been contaminated with E. coli and then irradiated. 6/29/2007

Thailand’s Mangosteen And Mango Exports Will Increase Irradiated Presence excerpts a New York Times piece pointing out that mangosteens and mangos will soon be available from Thailand. These items are unlikely to dramatically alter the shape of the produce department, the broader significance is that more and more tropicals are now being treated with irradiation. Now is the time to push for irradiation approval for fresh-cut products and other commodities. 6/28/2007

Lessons For Produce On Beef Recall discusses comments by food safety attorney Bill Marler, who had been under the impression that whatever the flaws in the food safety regimen for beef, substantial progress has been made. Yet now, Bill is focusing on what he sees as unfinished business to make regulations on beef stricter in light of increasing hamburger recalls and E. coli illnesses. Irradiation is still unapproved for food safety use on things like bagged spinach, but the beef situation should make the produce industry aware. We have to become far more aggressive advocates of irradiation. 6/12/2007

Another Unnecessary Beef Recall reports Supervalu has recalled some ground beef that was for sale in its Albertsons and Save-A-Lot chains due to E. coli 0157:H7 contamination. This recall stemmed from a recall by United Food Group of 75,000 pounds of ground beef. This is a food safety crisis that doesn’t have to happen. Let us hope these chains will follow the lead of firms such as Wegmans and offer irradiated fresh ground beef and frozen irradiated beef patties. 6/6/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Irradiation, Pasteurization And Labeling brought a letter from Bob Sanderson, President of Jonathan’s Sprouts in response to our earlier piece Unfair CNN Report Showed One Clear Winner: Irradiation. At this early stage in the battle for irradiated food, maintaining “accurate” labeling of irradiated products will keep opponents from accusing those who are selling them of deception. The folks pushing irradiation should be proudly promoting the Radura symbol and the term irradiation and making it their own. 5/25/2007

Unfair CNN Report Showed One Clear Winner: Irradiation tells how no publicity of this sort is good for the industry, but there was at least an attempt to present several sides to the story. The piece was certainly unfair. There was no sense of proportion or comparative risk. The injury of a child was used to emotionally manipulate the audience. No matter how down to earth our farmers, no matter how media coached, nothing is going to matter if we have more little girls with kidney failure. 5/22/2007

Irradiated Mangos Arrive From India explains that the 20-year hold-up on importing mangos from India had been phytosanitary, specifically, the dreaded mango seed weevil, which we don’t have in North America and which the USDA is intent on keeping out of the country. In January 2006, the Agriculture Department allowed the importation of produce treated with low doses of irradiation to kill or sterilize insects. These Indian mangos are the vanguard of many more irradiated items to come. 5/4/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Can Irradiation Follow The Path Of Pasteurization? shared a letter from one of the trade’s most intriguing thinkers, Bob Sanderson, President of Jonathan’s Sprouts in response to our earlier piece Raw Milk And Dirty Produce: Perfect Together. Bob raises a question about how the very existence of use of technology changes the prism through which we evaluate our environment. He also acknowledges, if we have more outbreaks, this may be the only path open to the industry. 5/4/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety And Lake Wobegon Mark Beeler of Watsonville Produce sends us a brief, but pointed, note in regards to our piece Fresh Express Declines To Sign California Marketing Agreement. Mark is no stranger to the Pundit, having written us to argue for the use of irradiation as a food safety tool right here. Because we do not use irradiation or some other “kill step” that allows us to say “this product is now safe” — it is always going to be expected that some companies will have better food safety programs than others. 2/15/2007

Organics, GMOs And Irradiation: The Voice Of Science highlights a letter to the journal Nature Biotechnology in which the author attacks an earlier editorial he deemed unkind to the safety of organic food. Actually, the initial editorial wasn’t an attack on organics; it was an ironic joke pointing out how unacceptable it would be to the research community if the same type of scaremongering that is applied to GMOs were ever applied to organics. The publication goes on to say “There is a simple fix available that could stem the rising tide of cases of food-borne illness in the United States. Irradiation of fruits and vegetables would eliminate 99.999% of pathogens. 2/15/2007

California Strawberry Industry Moves To Make Food Safe the California Strawberry Commission was already running hard on food safety, and created a new Issues and Food Safety Committee to build on its pre-existing Food Safety Program. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more from Mark Murai, President of the California Strawberry Commission. Efforts such as theirs will make food safer. Many in the industry think the world really won’t find any outbreaks acceptable and so they endorse “kill steps,” such as irradiation. 1/12/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Arguing For Irradiation received a letter from Mark Beeler of Watsonville Produce in response to our article Irradiation Will Prevent Future Outbreaks. His letter taps into a growing sense in the industry that nothing that is done at the grower level will provide the level of certainty of safety that government and the public demand. The thought is that we need a guaranteed kill step. And the only one available is irradiation. 1/11/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Oversights In Food Safety received a most important letter from Tom Russell, President of Dynasty Farms/Pacific International Marketing in which he make four important points, that all raw manure and even composted cow manure should be banned on all fresh produce fields, cow manure as a carrier for E. coli 0157:H7 is, as Tom puts it, a “bio-hazard”, that heavy uses of antibiotics may be creating more virulent strains of E. coli and that we better look hard at irradiation and is urging a “Right to Irradiate” law. 1/10/2007

From A Victim’s Perspective excerpts a Contra Costa Times profile looking at the spinach/E. coli crisis from the perspective of a woman who almost died titled “California Produce Now Crop of Concern”, and is quite poignant. It also points to how continued consumer concern over produce safety may impact future sales: “All this has prompted growers and politicians to advocate stricter farming practices and better enforcement of existing rules. But substantial changes are years away. In fact, many food safety experts suggest that irradiation is the only way to destroy harmful bacteria in raw produce.” 1/5/2007

Irradiation Will Prevent Future Outbreaks pinpoints the core problem with ALL food safety initiatives currently being proposed for the industry is that NONE of them guarantee against another outbreak. Since this is the case, and no outbreak is acceptable, the only possible answer is we need a kill step. The only viable one is irradiation. With excerpt from Wall Street Journal editorial page in which Dr. Michael Osterholm speaks out in favor of irradiation. 12/19/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Kill Steps And Irradiation excerpts comments on irradiation from industry leaders and a letter from an executive at a major food processor who says without a kill step in our processing plants, small measures will do us no good. FDA has been sitting on the petition to allow irradiation on bagged produce for over half a decade avoiding headaches over consumer acceptance of irradiation. Are the industry and consumers willing to pay more or be open to new technologies to ensure safer product? 11/16/2006

Safety Measure Opposed By Know-Nothings the FDA’s recent announcement that “It is our intent to seek approval for additional food safety products effective against E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella in the next 12 months.” is arousing all the usual suspects who oppose the use of viruses as food additives in ready-to-eat meat and poultry to protect against Listeria because, well, as best as I can determine because “viruses” are bad, sort of like “irradiation” is bad, so we shouldn’t use irradiation. 8/24/2006

 

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