Saturday, March 3, 2012

Time To Allow General Irradiation of All Foods?

It's well-known that E. coli. cases continue to erupt in this country and most are traced to consuming ground beef, though other cases have also been found. Perhaps now is the time to initiate approval of irradiation for all foods consumed, just as the FDA has done for lettuce. Lettuce has been known to be consumed in large quantities and used for everything from stand-alone salads to topping burgers and tacos.

Less well known, until an actual electron microscope image was obtained at Texas A &M, was the E. coli. could lurk inside the pores of lettuce. (See graphic attached with scale shown at the 5 micro-meter level, or 5 x 10^-6 m, or 0.005 mm). Hence, people consuming lettuce risked getting E. coli. infection if it wasn't thoroughly washed. In 2008, however, such risks became a non-issue when the FDA approved the use of radiation to kill such bacteria.

The question emerges: Why not also extend approval to more general culprit foods, especially ground beef ?(where E. coli. is often found on account of the slaughtering methods employed at meat plants.) The only plausible reason is the American public's free-floating fear of anything bearing the term "radiation" which then confers negative connotations (and yet most Americans still eat lettuce!)

First, there is no reason for worry as to becoming "irradiated" as the effect of any food radiation is long gone by the time of a consumer purchase. In any case, the effect of radiation on food is related to the quantity of ionizing radiation absorbed. This is measured in Grays (Gy) with 1 Gy defined as an absorbed dose of 1 joule per kilogram = 100 rads. Hence, imparting 2 kGy (kilo-Gray) of radiation to 1.1 lb. (0.5 kg) of ground beef will result in imparting 4000 J/kg of ionizing energy.

Doses administered with less than 1 kGy prevent sprouting in potatoes, and delay ripening of foods. This level of dose can also kill insects in grains and fruits while also inactivating parasites such as tapeworms in meats - also eliminate the worm responsible for trichinosis. A more elevated dose in the range of 1-5 kGy can pasteurize foods, or in other words eliminate micro-organisms such as E. coli. which can reside there. In this guise, irradiation can majorly eliminate from foods: salmonella, listeria and the most common E. Coli strain (O157: H7)

A common myth among the lay public is any irradiated food can effectively last indefinitely. Not so! The truth is that the organisms responsible for food spoilage are not so easily eliminated by radiation, so they need to be properly refrigerated afterwards.

This also skewers a collateral myth of consumers fretting over radiated food: that it can be used to conceal actual spoilage so the person may really be eating "garbage" if he buys it. Again, not so! Since the organisms that cause spoilage aren't so easily removed spoilage bacteria can still operate and hence if irradiation were used to attempt to hide spoiled milk, the consumer would know in an instant. Any store trying to sell it would soon be out of business.

Another myth is that irradiated food "tastes" different or bland. This has also been skewered, as I have had irradiated foods in the U.S. as well as irradiated milk in Barbados. The fact is that any difference in taste is all in the percipient's head.

A more valid concern is nutrient loss in irradiated (radiolytic) foods, especially veggies, since the process definitely reduces nutrients....especially in the B-vitaimin group so essential for proper neural health. As much as 50% of these can be destroyed on irradiation. However, it is critical to note that this occurs in many food processes, and indeed - as I noted in previous blogs, crops are vitamin-denuded today before even being harvested. Broccoli, for example, at the point of harvest jhas 33% or less nutrients than it had in the 1950s.

This is why I have been a staunch advocate for taking vitamin supplements, because the basic truth today (which the vitamin naysayers refuse to concede) is that you'd have to eat bushels of vegetable each week to hit the mark of minimum daily requirements - if you refused to take any vitamins. (Which my then family physician finally agreed with me on in 1999 after numerous arguments!) Yes, you may occasionally have more "expensive urine" but that's a minor price to pay for staying healthy!

Lastly, after 30 years of experiments rigorously conducted, no evidence has been found that food radiating creates harmful byproducts. The World Health Organization itself concluded in its final report on the issue that ('High Dose Irradiation: Wholesomeness of Food Irradiated with Doses Above 10kGy', in WHO Technical Report 890, Geneva (1999):

"the irradiation of any food commodity up to an overall average dose of 10 kGy presents no toxicological hazard."

Maybe now is the time to apply radiolytics to all that ground beef too!

No comments: