FDA Expands Irradiation Uses for Meat and Poultry

December 11th, 2012

[Note:  The use of irradiation is a prohibited technology in organic food production.]

Food Safety News

Meat and poultry producers who use ionized radiation to kill pathogens in product now have expanded options, thanks to two rules published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Friday.

The first rule allows for the irradiation of unrefrigerated raw meat. Previously, only refrigerated or frozen meats could be irradiated, but FDA says research on the meat treated at higher temperatures shows that this application poses no health risk.

The second rule ups the dose of absorbed ionizing radiation in poultry from 3.0 kilogray (kGy) to 4.5 kGy. While this higher dose is already allowed in meat and molluscan shellfish, the limit had remained at 3.0 kGy for poultry until now.

The two rules were issued in response to two petitions filed in 1999 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

FDA says that since that time, it has received many comments from consumer advocacy groups – including Public Citizen and the Center for Food Safety – requesting the denial of both petitions, as well as the denial of another rule permitting irradiation of molluscan shellfish.

However, these comments “were of a general nature” and “did not contain any substantive information that could be used in a safety evaluation of irradiated poultry,” said the FDA in its new poultry irradiation rule. The agency reached the same conclusion for the comments urging denial of the new meat temperature rule.

Irradiation is considered a food additive because it is a process that “can affect the characteristics of the food,” explains the agency. The treatment therefore falls under the jurisdiction of FDA, which regulates all additives, even though FSIS oversees meat safety.

There are three safety issues to be considered when looking at food irradiation, says the agency. These include:

– Potential toxicity

– Nutritional adequacy

– Effects on the microbiological profile of the food

Irradiating unrefrigerated meat was not found to increase meat’s toxicity, change the food’s nutritional properties or increase the likelihood of certain bacteria thriving on meat; therefore FDA has determined that this is a safe application for the process.

As for a higher radiation dose for poultry, since absorbed doses of 4.5 kGy have already been proven safe when applied to other flesh foods including beef, lamb and shellfish, there is no reason for this dose not to be allowed in poultry.

“The Agency determined in the 1997 rule permitting the irradiation of meat, meat byproducts and certain meat food products, that the conclusions regarding the irradiation of specific flesh foods can be used to draw conclusions about the irradiation of flesh foods as a class,” notes FDA in its poultry rule.

The two final rules went into effect November 30, 2012 – the day they were published.

FDA requires that all meat that has been irradiated must be labeled with a radura symbol on packaging and notes that the same requirement will apply to foods irradiated under these new rules.

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