let Irradiation doesn't need to hide behind a false name

By Ronald F. Eustice

A March 28 editorial criticizing those who want to use the word cold pasteurization as alternative language to irradiation is interesting.

The volume of irradiated product sold during the past 2 years (millions of pounds) has far surpassed anyone's wildest hopes or expectations. Think about it: On May 1, 2000, there were zero pounds of irradiated ground beef being sold; today thousands of tons have been sold and millions of pounds are in the market.

Huisken Meats of Chandler, Minn., made history when they became the first company in the nation to market irradiated ground beef.

Today Huisken BeSure irradiated patties are being sold in thousands of supermarkets in 35 states. Recently, over 1,000 stores were added in the Southeast when Florida-based Winn Dixie began to offer irradiated patties.


Schwan's, of Marshall, Minn., is marketing two different irradiated products in 48 states and Omaha Steaks only sells irradiated ground beef. A year ago, Rochester Meats, and Minneapolis-based W.W. Johnson began to offer irradiated ground beef to their customers.

Excel, a division of Cargill, is marketing irradiated fresh ground beef on a regional basis and plans to install electron beam irradiation facilities at their packing plants in Schuyler, Neb., and Marshall Mo. Recently a number of Dairy Queens began selling irradiated beef patties.

The Minnesota Beef Council is credited with being a major factor in the widespread consumer acceptance of irradiation. (We've served over 200,000 samples at consumer events during the past 41⁄2; years.)

We've always preferred to use the FDA-approved word "irradiation" in our presentations and agree that the technology should be accurately described. However, some processors have used the word "electronic" irradiation or "cold" pasteurization in their marketing efforts. Unfortunately, that has created controversy.

After reading your editorial, I checked a copy of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary for the definition of pasteurization. Here's what I found as one of two descriptions: Pasteurization: partial sterilization of perishable food products (as fruit or fish) with radiation (as gamma rays).

I looked further and found the following definition for the word radiation: Radiation: the process of emitting radiant energy in the form of waves or particles.

All the ground beef sold in lowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and most of the United States, is irradiated using radiant energy in the form of electron particles or ordinary electricity current (waves).

Based on what we're seeing at the supermarket and what we're hearing from consumers, there is a bright future for irradiated foods. We'll see lots more irradiated foods including poultry, fruits, vegetables and bakery goods available in the future.


Whether the process is called irradiation, electronic or cold pasteurization or ionization (as it is called in Europe) is less important than the fact that it will help prevent foodborne illness and save the lives of children and vulnerable adults.

Irradiation is no "silver bullet," but it is the closest thing we have to one, and will be an even more important tool in the future in our battle to make the dinner table a safer place.

It would be a horrible public health tragedy if we were to allow this remarkable tool for food safety to be hobbled by a pretentious and silly discussion over what we call it. Remember, a microwave oven actually irradiates food; it's just uses a different non-ionizing energy wave length.

Eustice is executive director of the Minnesota Beef Council.

What To Read Next
Get Local