The USDA has approved the use of irradiation to kill bacteria and improve the safety of fresh iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach.
But Doug Powell, an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University, said that doesn’t mean that farmers, retailers and consumers can let down their guard when it comes to safe food handling.
Powell said irradiation is a great tool, it is safe and it should be made available at the retail level.
But farmers still need to take measures to avoid initial contamination and other handlers in the food chain need to be aware that contamination can occur in packaging, handling or even food preparation in the home kitchen.
"There's a lot of people already speaking on behalf of consumers and what they may or may not do," Powell said. "When it comes to food, consumers vote with their wallets at checkout, not on public opinion surveys. I'd really like to see someone step up and offer consumers the choice. There have been enough serious outbreaks of foodborne illness in fresh produce that the interest in irradiated spinach and lettuce should be strong."
The USDA final rule on irradiation can be found at: www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/cfsup185.html.
Powell can be reached at 785-317-0560 or [email protected].