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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Science for Kids: No Pests on These Products

No Pests on These Products

Just 5 years ago, it would've been hard to find tropical fruits and vegetables like papaya, dragon fruit and purple sweet potato in your local grocery store or specialty market. That's because of worries that insect pests, hiding in the fruit, could sneak into the mainland United States from Hawaii.

Studies by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist Peter Follett and food technologist Marisa Wall, who work at the ARS research center in Hilo, Hawaii, have found a way to stop those insects. They showed that a dose of radiation can be used to control a wide variety of pests found on fruits and vegetables.

Typically, entomologists have to develop treatments for one pest and fruit or vegetable at a time, which can take years of research. But using one generic dose can help save time and money, meaning you get your fresh, tropical produce faster.

Insect "stowaways" in fruit and vegetable shipments aren't the only targets of irradiation. The technology is also used to kill organisms that cause disease or spoilage in ground beef, spinach, and other foods.

After extensive tests, Follett found that just the right generic doses of radiation will stop many hitchhiking pests without damaging most fruits and vegetables.

Hawaii isn't the only one benefitting from this research. Other countries like India, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico and Pakistan are using generic doses to treat many other tropical fruits and vegetables before they're shipped to the United States.

Thanks to this breakthrough research, you won't always have to travel abroad to enjoy some tropical fruits and vegetables. — By Stephanie Yao, formerly, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff.

You can learn more about food irradiation from USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Irradiation_and_Food_Safety/index.asp and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration at http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm093651.htm.

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Last Modified: 2/14/2011
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