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USDA Signs Research Pact to Test New Irradiator Against Foodborne Pathogens

By Doris Stanley
February 12, 1997

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12--The Agriculture Department has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Gray*Star, Inc., a private company based in Mt. Arlington, N.J., to evaluate their irradiator for killing foodborne pathogens like E. coli 0157:H7 on meat, poultry and other agricultural products.

Donald W. Thayer, a research chemist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service at Wyndmoor, Pa., will conduct the studies to evaluate the irradiator. Thayer has earned an international reputation for his research on the safety and efficacy of using irradiation to control food pathogens in poultry and red meat without significant change to the nutritional quality.

In previous studies at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center at Wyndmoor, Thayer has determined the effects of irradiation on foodborne pathogens such as Bacillus cereus, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus on meat and poultry. “Pasteurizing food by irradiation significantly reduces the numbers of these harmful microorganisms,” Thayer said.

In tests to evaluate the irradiator, Thayer will cooperate with the company in determining the uniformity--and factors affecting the uniformity--of the gamma radiation dose delivered to agricultural products under controlled temperature conditions by the irradiator.

Thayer and other ARS scientists will conduct research to determine the effectiveness of the irradiator for the control of such foodborne pathogens as E. coli 0157:H7, Listeriamonocytogenes and salmonellae on meat or poultry or in or on other foods, and its ability to maintain suitable environmental conditions during irradiation.

The irradiator is transportable and can be delivered to the packinghouse or production site where food is being processed for shipment. Foods can be pre-packaged and a standard pallet of product can be processed at once, handling up to 10,000 pounds of produce an hour per unit.

Thayer noted that ionizing radiation from cobalt, cesium or X-rays does not cause food to be radioactive but is quite effective in killing harmful organisms. The irradiator can be used to control quarantine pests as well as food pathogens.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved irradiation to control microorganisms in poultry and trichinosis in pork, and is currently reviewing a petition to irradiate beef. FDA has also approved irradiation use on fruits and vegetables.

Food irradiation is endorsed by the American Medical Association, World Health Organization, Institute of Food Technologists, American Council on Science and Health, Council on Agricultural Science and Technology and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Dynamic Industries, Inc., of Cincinnati, Ohio, will manufacture the irradiation units for Gray*Star, Inc., using cesium-137 radioactive isotopes from Babcock & Wilcox of Lynchburg, Va. Several units already have been ordered by private companies, primarily for quarantine disinfestation of fruits and vegetables.

Scientific contact: Donald W. Thayer, Food Safety Research, Eastern Regional Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, 600 E. Mermaid Lane, Wyndmoor, Pa. 19038-8551, phone (215) 233-6582, fax (215) 233-6406, e-mail; or Martin H. Stein, GRAY*STAR, Inc., Mt. Arlington Corporate Center, 200 Valley Road, Mt. Arlington, N.J. 07856, phone (201) 398-3331, fax (201) 398-8130, e-mail