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New Partnership Bolsters Food Safety

By Tara Weaver-Missick
October 11, 2000

PHILADELPHIA, Pa., Oct. 11—U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists will join forces with industry researchers to more closely study the effects of irradiation on food quality and food safety.

The federal scientists, with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, have entered into a 5-year agreement with Ion Beam Applications’ (IBA) Food Safety Division located in Memphis, Tenn. The ARS scientists work in the Food Safety Research Unit at the agency’s Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, Pa. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of USDA.

“ARS specialists are leaders in conducting research on using ionizing radiation to minimize pathogens in foods,” said ARS Administrator Floyd P. Horn. “Our research findings helped lead to major food irradiation regulation by the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

FSIS and FDA have approved use of irradiation to reduce harmful microorganisms on poultry and red meats, including beef, lamb and pork. For the past 40 years, FDA has been evaluating the safety of foods treated with radiation and has not found any consumer health risks associated with eating low-dose irradiated foods.

Ionizing radiation kills bacterial pathogens through the use of either gamma rays produced by cobalt and cesium atoms, or machine-produced X-rays and electrons.

IBA is the largest irradiation service provider, with 27 facilities worldwide. They have extended the use of their industrial-size sterilization and ionization equipment to ARS researchers for large-scale research.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year 76 million people in the United States become ill from food-borne pathogens. Of those, more than 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die. More sound scientific research on irradiated foods should allow for an improved U.S. food supply, and provide consumers with the facts with which to make wise choices about irradiated foods.

Scientific contact: Donald W. Thayer, ARS Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, Pa., phone (215) 233-6582, fax (215) 233-6406, Chip Colonna, IBA Food Safety Division, Memphis, Tenn., phone (901) 681-9006, fax (901) 681-9007,