June 17, 2024

One-Third of Food Outbreaks Linked to Non-Irradiated Food

One-third of food outbreaks are linked to non-irradiated foods, according to a report in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases report for June 2024. Those foods are eligible for irradiation treatment, which kills pathogens and extends the life of produce and other foods.

One-Third of Food Outbreaks Linked to Non-Irradiated Food

Of 482 outbreaks, 155 were linked to an irradiation-eligible food; none of those foods were irradiated. Irradiation is  controversial, with some significant consumer resistance and large fixed costs. The FDA has approved certain foods for this type of treatment, including poultry, fresh shell eggs, spices, and meat.

The FDA says that food irradiation is safe, and can control pathogens and insects. It can reduce the use of pesticides on foods, and can preserve food for longer storage. The government states, “The FDA has evaluated the safety of irradiated food for more than 30 years and has found the process to be safe. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have also endorsed the safety of irradiated food.”

All foods that have been irradiated will bear the green Radura symbol, so consumers can make informed choices.

The pathogens Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter are neutralized by irradiation at sufficient doses. Those are the most common foodborne pathogens that cause illness, hospitalization and death in this country.

A search conducted in the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System found 2,153 outbreaks during the time period of 2009 to 2020 that were caused by those pathogens. Of those outbreaks, 482, or 22.4%, that included information about processing methods; none used irradiation. Of those 482 outbreaks, 155, or 32.2%, were linked to a food eligible for irradiation. Those outbreaks sickened 3,512 people, caused 463 hospitalizations, and 10 deaths. The most common vehicles for those outbreaks were chicken, beef, and eggs.

The report concludes, “These results suggest that some outbreaks could be prevented or mitigated through irradiation. Prioritizing food irradiation efforts, particularly for chicken, beef, and eggs, could substantially reduce outbreaks and illnesses.”

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