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Produce Irradiation Receives FDA Stamp of Approval

posted on August 22, 2008

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Reports from both the public and private sectors this week revealed the U.S. economy continues to be stuck in low gear.

The New York-based Conference Board reported its Index of Leading Economic Indicators fell 0.7 percent in July marking its largest decline in nearly a year.

Despite a reduction in new additions to the unemployment line, the Labor Department reported the four-week average tally climbed to its highest level in nearly five years.

And crude oil prices rallied more than $5 Thursday as escalating tensions with Russia stoked fears of supply disruptions in the West.

The standoff in Georgia took center stage in Washington this week, but behind the scenes, policymakers wrestled with more mundane, but no less important matters, including food safety. And in the wake of this summer's nationwide salmonella outbreak blamed on Mexican peppers, the government approved a long-sought method of destroying food-borne pathogens.

Produce Irradiation Receives FDA Stamp of Approval

In a long-awaited decision, the Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation as a safe form of killing dangerous bacteria on spinach and lettuce. The FDA ruling, effective immediately, determined that modern irradiation technology kills food-poisoning germs without compromising the nutrition value or safety of raw lettuce and spinach.

Irradiation is already common practice for meat products like ground beef. But while most meat products inherently include a kill step like grilling or cooking, vegetables like lettuce and spinach are generally consumed raw.

Sadex Corporation, a Sioux City, Iowa irradiation facility, tested irradiated spinach for Market to Market nearly two years ago. Sadex President Harlan Clemmons was so confident in his irradiation e-beam technology that he voluntarily consumed spinach intentionally laced with E. coli and treated at his facility.

Harlan Clemmons, Sadex: "People claim that there will be cell damage and there would be at higher doses, but if a dose level just needed to get a four or five log reduction of pathogens, there's no cell damage, no damage to the product. It's still crunchy um, still tastes like spinach."

The Sadex President did not suffer any health ailments following his meal. Speaking with Market to Market this week following the FDA ruling, Clemmons stated:

"It's great news for the consumer. I would view this as a blessing from the government saying that irradiation is much like pasteurization. The last three decades of research have shown most importantly that it is safe."

Produce irradiation survived a long series of regulatory hurdles. Clemmons was present with numerous industry leaders last March at a Congressional food safety hearing.

At that time, Congressmen Bart Stupak called for a swift decision by the Food and Drug Administration on the safety of irradiation. The original FDA petition regarding produce irradiation was filed in 1999. This week's final approval comes more than nine years later.

Tags: food food safety government news radiation salmonella