Iowa Public Television


Irradiated Meat in the Super Market

posted on November 8, 2002

It's been a year of high-profile recalls for the meat industry. This week the USDA announced a Nebraska meat company will reclaim 110-thousand pounds of ground beef distributed nationwide.

Tests show the beef, sold to retail stores and institutions, was contaminated with a deadly form of E.coli bacteria.

While the USDA continues to attempt to get a handle on how best to ensure these outbreaks don't occur, proponents of a new technology are pressing their case. The technology is known as irradiation. While there is some controversy about its deployment, the government has cleared it for use to make food safer.


In early 2000, the USDA officially allowed the use of irradiation as another method to help ensure the red meat supply was free of food borne diseases. Though not in widespread use, the technique has been utilized commercially for both poultry and ground-beef.

Recently, irradiated ground beef has found its way on to the shelves of several chain grocery stores in the US with mixed results. While the assurance of cleanliness appealed to some consumers the price, anywhere from 10 to 25-cents higher than conventionally inspected meat, did not. One chain discontinued stocking the product after lackluster sales.

The technique, which goes by the name SureBeam, sends a beam of electrons through the meat destroying food borne bacteria like E.coli.

Detractors of the process question the effect of irradiation on the nutritional value of the meat and stress the need to focus on cleaning up the processing line. Promoters of the system point to USDA testing that revealed no significant effect on nutritional value and a record which shows the U.S. as having one of the safest food supplies in the world.


Tags: agriculture food groceries meat news radiation USDA