Beware of Irradiated Meats!
FL's Biggest Grocery Chain To Soon Sell Irradiated Meats
By Wayne T. Price
Much to the consternation of consumer- advocacy groups opposed to the process, Publix Super Markets Inc. soon will begin selling its customers irradiated beef and chicken products.
Food irradiation is parasite-killing process some food companies are turning to because they believe it makes their products safer. Irradiation kills harmful parasites in food by exposing it to controlled amounts of radiation.
Lakeland-based Publix, Florida's largest supermarket chain, said that next year it will sell irradiated meat products -- under the label New Generation -- because the company believes some consumers think the treated products are safer than non-treated items.
Publix also may sell irradiated fresh fruit and vegetables in the future. All irradiated-treated products are marked with a special label.
"For the past several years, we have been carefully monitoring consumer interest in irradiated products," said Lee Brunson, a Publix spokesman. "We believe many customers would like the option of purchasing these products as another line of defense against food-borne illness.
"Irradiated ground beef also offers customers the opportunity to cook their burgers rare, which is not a recommended food-safety option with non-irradiated ground beef that should be cooked to 160 degrees."
Irradiation typically uses gamma rays from a solid radioactive source to disrupt the DNA of dangerous bacteria, parasites, mold and fungus, thus killing it or rendering it incapable of proliferating. In the case New Generation treated products, food products are exposed to gamma rays produced by radioactive cobalt-60. The rays go through and around the food -- as well as the platters carrying them -- for about 30 to 40 minutes in a 20-foot-by-20-foot concrete room.
Publix's New Generation meat products -- ground beef patties, boneless chicken breasts and chicken tenders -- will be irradiated by the Mulberry-based Food Technology Service Inc.
Publix, one of the top 10 U.S. supermarket chains, is the first major grocery store in Florida to announce plans to sell a range of irradiated beef and chicken. Publix, a privately traded company, has 24 stores in Brevard County.
Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. said it sells one brand of irradiated beef patties, but those products haven't been all that popular with customers, said Mickey Clerc, a company spokesman. If there is customer demand for more irradiated-treated food products, Winn-Dixie will sell them, he said.
Some shoppers were nonchalant about the Publix news.
"It's another option for the customer," said Thomas Lynch of Barefoot Bay, a frequent Publix shopper. "If you go in there and don't want to buy it, you don't have to. You can buy something else."
Some studies suggest the public is warming to the idea of irradiated foods.
A Harris Poll in 1986 found that 76 percent of Americans considered irradiation a hazard, but also admitted they knew little about it. But studies in the late-'90s -- including one by the University of Georgia -- showed that after being briefed on the process, up to 60 percent of respondents said they would buy irradiated foods.
Monique Mikhail, a spokeswoman with the Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen, a consumer-advocacy group, said there hasn't been enough testing on the food irradiation process to see if causes more harm than good.
In general, Public Citizen is against irradiated meat products, saying: "It's masking filthy practices" in the meat-processing industry.
"It's a coverup of dirty meat," Mikhail said.
And Colleen Cramer, manager at Nature's Market in Melbourne, said irradiation is "very, very, bad" for meat. Nature's Market won't sell beef and poultry that has been irradiated, or artificially treated with things like hormones or steroids.
Richard Hunter, president of Food Technology Service, a 10-year-old company that trades on the Nasdaq SmallCap market, dismisses critics of irradiation.
Many health-monitoring groups -- including the American Medical Association, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization -- support irradiation.
Further, Hunter added, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said if irradiated ground beef and poultry products were more widely available, it would save 352 lives annually.
"People don't have to buy irradiated products if they feel uncomfortable with the process," Hunter said. "But for people who understand how much safer this food is, and want to do the most to avoid any potential for food-borne illnesses, it's a great product.
Ponders Other Ways To Say 'Irradiated' Food
An FDA spokeswoman said the agency was expected to publish proposed changes to the current labeling requirements soon.
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