06 April 1998
Red meat irradiation on the increase in the USA

FOOD scares such as mad cow disease and E.Coli outbreaks have seen some US consumers move away from red meat – prompting some outlets to adopt meat irradiation in a bid to win them back.

The procedure is quite simple. Food passes through a sealed chamber where it is exposed to radiation – either gamma rays or an electron beam. This destroys the bacteria in the product, or the bacterias ability to reproduce, by breaking up their DNA. The radiation dose required is said to be too low to make the food itself radioactive.

But The Centre for Science, based in Washington DC, says the meat industry should clean up its act “from the farm through to the supermarket” before irradiation is used on meat. It says irradiation is “possibly appropriate as a last resort”.

The US Food and Drug Administration approved the treatment as a means of controlling disease-causing micro-organisms late last year.

Jim Riemann, at the Excel division of Cargill, believes in the possibilities of novel processes such as irradiation.

APA, of Omaha, says it has clients in the meat industry who are interested in harnessing the technology, but much will depend on consumer acceptance.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests irradiation of meat would add a premium of 1.65¢/lb (1p/lb).

Most supermarkets, processors and other interested parties are now awaiting detailed guidance from USDA before implementing irridation. Senior officials say this will take at least “several more months”.

  • Financial Times 06/04/98 page 14