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article imageThe FDA Has Approved Radiation Treatments For Lettuce And Spinach

By Nikki Weingartner     Aug 25, 2008 in Food
Like to eat in the garden? The FDA recently approved radiation treatment for some basic salad fixins as a means to help reduce the number of disease-causing bacteria. This will also increase the amount of time they can be stored without spoiling.
In an effort to make foods safer for consumers, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is constantly changing the processes by which certain foods are handled. In a recent decision handed down by the regulating authority, there will be some safer salads hitting markets and grocers in the future.
On August 22nd, the FDA made a final ruling approving the use of irradiation, or ionized radiation, on fresh bagged and loose iceberg lettuce and spinach. They determined that the process used was just enough to destroy many of the bacteria and germs and did not destroy the nutrients found in the foods nor did it make them unsafe for consumption.
As explained in a consumer update by the FDA:
Irradiating fresh iceberg lettuce and spinach will help protect consumers from disease-causing bacteria. Infections from bacteria such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli) continue to be a public health problem in the United States. Illnesses from these bacteria range from uncomfortable symptoms to life-threatening health problems. Severe illness from E. coli, for example, can lead to kidney failure.
For many individuals who have weak immune systems or are particularly vulnerable to the disease-causing bacterias found on these leafy greens, this may be good news as safer salads could be just around the corner.
In 2006, an outbreak of E.coli-tainted baby spinach was the culprit in three deaths and caused several hundred illnesses.
The approved process is not intended to supplement "proper food-handling practices", as explained in the update. It is also maintained that consumer's should clean the leaves prior to consumption.
Irradiated food is nothing new to the food industry. In 1997, the FDA approved radiation treatments of beef, spices and shellfish due to its bacteria killing powers. The FDA also approved radiation treatments on lettuce and spinach at much lower doses to kill bugs.
The process of irradiation is NOT currently a requirement by the FDA and will be allowed on a voluntary basis. Those companies who wish to use the process on their iceberg lettuce and spinach must gain approval from the FDA prior to being allowed on the market. All approved lettuce and spinach that have been irradiated will have the logo "radura" on their packaging, along with the phrase "Treated with radiation" or "Treated by irradiation".
In an article on AOL news, Dole produce was said to be "considering" irradiating their lettuce. Even the Grocer's Manufacturing Association had petitioned the FDA to approve the treatments of produce. With the new process approved and supporters on board, the likelihood of the "big guys" taking to irradiation might not be so far off base.
Still, there are some out there who don't believe that the approved process will take care of all of the problems associated with produce as explained in the AOL article:
A leading food safety expert said irradiation indeed can kill certain bacteria safely — but it doesn't kill viruses that also increasingly contaminate produce, and it isn't as effective as tightening steps to prevent contamination starting at the farm.
"It won't control all hazards on these products," cautioned Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
She questioned why the FDA hasn't addressed her agency's 2006 call to require growers to document such things as how they use manure and ensure the safety of irrigation water. Irrigation is one suspect in this summer's nationwide salmonella outbreak attributed first to tomatoes and then to Mexican hot peppers.
"We are not opposed to the use of irradiation," DeWaal said. But, "it's expensive and it doesn't really address the problem at the source."
If you like your salad HOT, and I don't mean off the stove, then you may find a new and safer iceberg lettuce or spinach leaf just right for you!
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