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Low-Dose Electron Beam Carcass Irradiation May Be Important Processing Aid in Enhancing Beef Safety, American Meat Institute Says

Thursday, September 18, 2008
 

Washington, DC – Low-dose electron beam carcass irradiation can be an important processing aid to enhance beef safety, American Meat Institute (AMI) Foundation President Randy Huffman, Ph.D., told a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) public meeting to solicit opinion on an AMI petition to allow the technology in beef plants.

Electron-beam irradiation uses electricity (not radioactive isotopes) to destroy bacteria.  AMI’s petition seeks approval for use of the technology on the carcass surface only.   The energy would not penetrate beyond one-fourth of an inch. 

Huffman told USDA officials that the data clearly show that it could be remarkably effective in destroying bacteria on the carcass surface, and  added that in no case has Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) ever required the labeling of the ingredient merely because of its antimicrobial properties at time of treatment.   He stressed that the petition demonstrates the process has no significant effect on the smell, taste, appearance, shelf life or nutritional properties of the carcass or products derived from there.  “We submit it would be misleading to mandate the labeling of the process or any beef derived from the carcass since those products would evidence no characteristics of irradiated products,” he told the public meeting.”

“AMI agrees with the position of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that low dose, low-penetration electron beam (e-beam) applied to the surface of chilled beef carcasses is a ‘processing aid’ and accordingly that this process need not be labeled on any products derived from the carcass,” he said.

The key unique difference of this proposed application of irradiation, compared with other approved methods of final product irradiation, is that it is a low dose, he said, and results in an insignificant portion of the carcass actually receiving e-beam exposure.  He stressed that most of the edible portion of the carcass would not receive any e-beam exposure at all. 

Huffman said that the external surface of the carcass is largely used in ground beef manufacture where it constitutes about 5 percent of the ground beef blend. 

 Huffman acknowledged that AMI’s petition is the first step in a long process to deploy the technology as a food safety tool in meat plants.  “The key issue at hand today is that a regulatory decision is being contemplated based upon sound scientific data, which will allow the industry to further study this potential food safety tool and potentially take advantage of its pathogen reduction capabilities,” he said. 

“Based upon the data and analysis referenced in the petition we submit that the proposed process of using e-beam to treat the surface of a chilled beef carcass would meet the USDA-FSIS definition of a processing aid and would result in a significant reduction in pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7, while causing no meaningful change in the taste, smell, appearance, shelf life, or the nutritional profile of products produced from the beef carcass,” he said.

“The industry has invested tens of millions of dollars in research aimed at developing new technologies that will reduce microbial hazards that are inherent in processing of raw agricultural products,” Huffman said.  “Implementation of the most effective of these technologies has occurred and has contributed to the reduction of pathogens such as E. coli O157 on raw beef products.  However, clearly there is a need for more effective control procedures.”

"We are pleased that FSIS is moving forward on our request and will be filing written comments to address certain issues raised during public comment period  in the public meeting,"  Huffman added.

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