MadSci Network: Physics

Re: Is it feasible to use irradiation to kill bacteria such as e coli in meat?

Date: Tue May 29 18:42:53 2001
Posted By: Bernadette Baca, Health Physicist, Division of Reactor Safety
Area of science: Physics
ID: 989468303.Ph

The area and idea of irradiating meat is one gaining more acceptance.  For 
many years fruits, vegetables, and eggs have been irradiated to extend 
shelf life as well as kill harmful insects and bacteria.  The idea to 
irradiate meat is not a new concept.  The effects of radiation on fruits, 
vegetables, and eggs were probably the first known, documented, and 
accepted as good practices.  However, there were questions on the effects 
to meat we had not yet studied and funding for this area, as well as 
political incentives, kept the venture of irradiating meat behind times.  
Anyway, one of the main questions posed to ANY facility irradiating food, 
or even medical instruments (scalpels, scissors, etc.), is one of relaxed 
preparation methods.  It does not matter how much you irradiate the food or 
instrument, if there are contaminants elsewhere in the processing line, the 
food or instrument will still become contaminated.  With fruit, vegetables, 
and eggs, the processing is relatively simple and the introduction for a 
contaminate is considered low (not zero, but quite close).  Please be aware 
that most fruits, vegetables and eggs are irradiated whole - there is no 
process at this point where the foods are broken open.  Their original 
skin/shell remains intact.  This is the point of great consideration for 
meat irradiation - there is no "skin" or "shell" in which to protect the 
rest of the food from potential contamination once it is irradiated.

Many health organizations and consumers are afraid that companies may see 
irradiation as the "kill all" method when processing meat.  This means the 
company considers irradiation to kill anything in the meat and is ready for 
consumption.  This is a valid consideration from consumers and health 
organizations.  When meat is processed, it is taken from an animal, cut up 
or ground up, maybe some additional processing, and packaged for 
distribution.  There are all sorts of sources from which a contaminate may 
be introduced after meat is irradiated.  Since there is no "skin" to 
protect the meat, conveyors may be contaminated with something and pass it 
on to the meat as well as any other process or packaging method.  
Processing meat is not an easy process to figure out where the appropriate 
place is to irradiate meat.  Some place irradiation at the end of the 
process, but it is still not an excuse for not following safe and hygienic 
meat processing practices and methods.  This is the major consideration of 

Many countries have taken on irradiating significant sources of processed 
meat.  The cost of irradiating meat and the cost of illness, disease, 
death, and loss of a valuable food source has been sufficiently weighted.  
They have also given consideration to the safety and hygienic practices 
their processors utilize and if not instituted regulatory oversight for 
these processes.  

As far as changes in meat texture, vitamin content, chemicals in meat, 
etc., I have included a list of web sites to help address these questions.  
Some are valid questions on whether or not to irradiate meat.  However, the 
overall safety of irradiated meat has been studied and is a consideration 
many countries are looking into.   And irradiation does not cause the meat 
to become radioactive.

Current Queue | Current Queue for Physics | Physics archives

Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Physics.

MadSci Home | Information | Search | Random Knowledge Generator | MadSci Archives | Mad Library | MAD Labs | MAD FAQs | Ask a ? | Join Us! | Help Support MadSci

MadSci Network,
© 1995-2001. All rights reserved.