Monday, September 1, 2008

FDA’s Decision over Food Irradiation Stirs Debate

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved the irradiation treatment of spinach and lettuce to kill the potential harmful bacteria, pathogens and insects, including causes of food-borne illnesses like E. coli and salmonella. The FDA’s decision follows the 2006 E. coli outbreak that pulled fresh spinach off store shelves, sickened dozens of consumers, and led to some to be hospitalized.

The agency allowed food producers of fresh iceberg lettuce and spinach to use irradiation to control food-borne pathogens and extend shelf life, because these vegetables are “an ideal habitat” for pests and bacteria and they are usually eaten raw.

There are about 76 million cases of food poisoning annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infected people usually experience a wide variety of symptoms including abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has shown that treating spinach and lettuce with relatively low radiation kills 99.9% to 99.99% of E. coli. The procedure is slightly less successful against salmonella, researchers say.

The Food Irradiation Coalition backs the procedure, saying that properly irradiated foods didn’t pose a human health risk. Irradiated food is treated with doses of ionizing radiation to kill dangerous bacteria, a procedure that has the same effects as pasteurization for milk.

The FDA’s decision has stirred controversy and it was criticized by some consumer groups. Moreover, foodmakers say it will take time and money to make the treatment practical. They will have to build irradiation facilities that will cost millions of dollars.

However, consumers should be informed if a product is treated with irradiation. Food treated with irradiation currently have to be labeled with a radura symbol and a label containing the words “radiated” or “irradiated.”

source : efluxmedia

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