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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

FSIS denies AMI’s 2005 petition for low-dose beef irradiation

It was a busy few days for FSIS getting out substantive food policy when the media and the public will likely not notice – See Press Release on Salmonella.

Screen shot 2011-07-09 at 10.04.30 PM.pngA few days ago, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) quietly denied the American Meat Institute’s (AMI’s) 2005 Petition to Recognize the Use of E-beam on Carcasses as a Processing Aid. In response the FSIS stated:

After reviewing the available information associated with this request (refer to attachment 1), FSIS believes that beef carcass geometry may lead to an uneven absorbed dose and is pertinent to the low dose aspect of the AMI petition, even though the petition did not provide a definition or criteria to use to define low dose or low penetration. In addition, because absorbed dose is accumulated upon each exposure of treated beef, such treated beef would need to be controlled in a manner to ensure that the total absorbed dose does not exceed the maximum approved absorbed dose. The petition did not address the control of potential multiple application of treatment. Consequently, FSIS has determined that the petition lacks sufficient detail to warrant investment in development of a rulemaking at this time. FSIS is denying the petition without prejudice. AMI may submit a revised petition for consideration addressing the issues discussed in greater detail in the attachment. Meanwhile, establishments can use the irradiation treatment on chilled beef carcasses as long as the product meets the requirements of 9 CFR 424.21 for total absorbed dose and 9 CFR 424.22 (c)(4) for labeling.

Read it all here.

  • Bill Anderson

    Why would I want to eat beef that was irradiated? If I wanted to irradiate my food, I would buy a microwave.

  • Minkpuppy

    Bill A. says” Why would I want to eat beef that was irradiated? If I wanted to irradiate my food, I would buy a microwave. “

    This shows a complete lack of knowledge about the irradiation process. There’s a lot of myths out there about it and it aggravates the heck out of me.

    Irradiation of beef is not even remotely close to microwaving your food. Microwave ovens cook food. IRRADIATION DOES NOT COOK FOOD OR MAKE IT RADIOACTIVE. Microwaves use non-ionizing radiation and irradiation uses the ionizing form. The only similarity between the two is that neither uses a radioactive source to generate radiation.

    The irradiation process allows the processor to kill/reduce pathogens without cooking the meat/produce. It’s very similar to a pasteurization process without the heat. You put frozen raw product into the process and it comes out as frozen raw product with a lot less pathogens and spoilage bacteria. It results in a longer shelf life and a significant log reduction in pathogens such as E. coli. It has little effect on nutrional value, quality, and composition of foods when treated within the acceptable, effective dose limits. There are strict controls in place to ensure the meat is not exposed to too high of a dosage. Anything that falls above the upper limit, is automatically condemned. It works much better on uniform cuts of meat and produce which is why FSIS is rejecting the petition to use it on carcasses. If the product is not uniform, you can’t control the exposure. I agree with the Agency on this one.

    AMI sees irradiation as the silver bullet against E. coli but they fail to understand the limitations of the technology and they fail to understand that it doesn’t mean that packers can continue to practice horrendous sanitary dressing procedures because it gets irradiated later. Irradiation should only be used as an additional tool to make a safer product. It won’t automatically make a safe product if the processor is sloppy to begin with.

    I’ve had the opportunity to visit an irradiation research facility and it’s a very promising technology. However, there’s too many folx out there that look at it as evil and bad due to total ignorance of how it works. It’s unfortunate the name sounds too much like “radiation” but I don’t like the push to call it pastuerization either. It just doesn’t sit right with me–there has to be something out there that is a more accurate description.

    For a “civilized society”, this country still seems to cling to a lot of superstitous nonsense. We’ll never make progess when needless FEAR gets in the way.

    Disgusted as usual, Minkpuppy

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Thanks Minkpuppy for dispelling nonsense and giving us the facts.

  • Sam

    Irradiated shit is still shit.

  • Theresa Kentner

    Bill! What nonsense! You do not help your cause or position with such comments. I heard similiar things before 1980 when a mircowave assembly plant went up in our town, but not really since then.

  • Bill Anderson

    You can come up with whatever name you want for the process — “zapping”, “electro-magentic wave pasteurization”, or some other slick innocuous-sounding techno-name to appease public opinion. I still wouldn’t want to eat irradiated meat or use a microwave!!
    I like my meat 100% grassfed from a local producer who I know uses rotational pasture grazing, soil mineralization, is certified organic, and uses a small local abattoir. I’ll skip the irradiation crap, thanks.

  • Dog Doctor

    Minkpuppy, an excellent write up. Will you be at the avma meeting starting at the end of week?

  • Minkpuppy

    People always fear what they don’t understand. Bill A., I’ll guarantee you’ve eaten irradiated spices and it looks like you’re still OK. Not growing any extra limbs or tentacles or anything, are you?

    Dog Doctor, Unfortunately no. I’m actually just a flunkie inspector with a BS in animal science so I don’t get to go to AVMA meetings. ;-) I know enough about irradiation to feel OK about it. I would fill in as the inspector at Texas A&M’s facility once in awhile. Fascinating stuff and I learned a lot! A&M is even studying e-beam for oysters–from other research I’ve seen, they can’t get the dose right without affecting the flavor of the oysters so it’s proving to be a bit tougher than treating meat. Some produce is tricky also because of the shape–again, the uniformity of the dose is the problem, I think.

    Sam–Exactly, which is why I back my employers on this. AMI sees irradiation as the cure all when really all it will do is encourage the packers to use irradiation instead of improving their sanitary dressing procedures. I’ve seen irradiation mostly being used as a final treatment on ground beef that has already gone through a number of antimicrobial interventions. It mainly adds that last little bit of insurance before the ground beef goes out.

    I have a problem with whole carcass irradiation for the very reasons the Agency states–you can not ensure a uniform dose over the whole carcass. Again, I just see too many packers leaving shit on the carcass because it will get “zapped” later, so why bother? Allowing it will take even more control over fecal zero tolerance away from the inspectors. We have a hard enough time already when the plants play games by cleaning everything up for the offline inspector only to turn around and let everything go to hell once the inspector leaves the kill floor. This will make it worse. They’ll start screaming that we can’t stop the lines to trim feces because the irradiation will take care of it. It’s a bad idea all around and I’ll be the first to say “I told you so” if they let this go through.

  • Minkpuppy, I used to work on the kill floor and I was impressed by the inspectors who could spot a single leucosis lesion in a chicken liver going by at 92 birds a minute. I know what you are talking about with management in the agency. I regularly pissed them off by documenting their instruction using speed memo (before e-mail).
    As to irradiation, it is another useful tool to protect the public health, although it doesn’t replace careful and good preparation. It is best to keep the shit off in the first place whether it is under a shade tree in a processing plant.
    To Mr. Anderson, local is great but realize the first health departments were formed at the local level. The term baker’s dozen (13 instead of 12) comes from early local regulations where certain weights had to be met or the baker would be flogged.
    There are currently over 3000 local health departments who see 10 times as many outbreaks as the state, the state see 10 times more than federal agencies.
    So get off the kick that local grown will solve everything, yes it can be great to help your local farmer but every public health person’s training starts with studying the church social or the local dinner party where somebody made a mistake. Wiped their face when they had a cold or acne and proceeded to process the food they were serving resulting in a local outbreak. Many of the unpasteurized cider outbreaks were school trips out to the local orchard where they had press fallen apples with the deer running through the orchard. The result was a nice E. coli O157:H7 outbreak no CAFO, no mega farm – just stupidity.
    You can never make a system fool proof; nature just makes a bigger fool.
    But I encourage you to continue to buy local, but in December you may find limited options unless you live in Hawaii. For me, I still want my bananas so don’t limit my choices either since even when I lived in Florida, they had to be imported.

  • Theresa Kentner

    “You can come up with whatever name you want for the process — “zapping”, “electro-magentic wave pasteurization”, or some other slick innocuous-sounding techno-name to appease public opinion.”
    And an abattoir is a pretty name for a slaughterhouse. Everyone does it.