Solution in Irradiation?

Irradiation, a somewhat controversial technology that kills bacteria in uncooked foods, could virtually eliminate the problems swirling around E. coli 0157:H7 contamination, a former retail executive told SN. No more recalls, no more cumbersome tracebacks, no more contaminated ground beef. No more people getting sick from eating tainted hamburgers. Not if ground beef were irradiated.

WOOSTER, Ohio — Irradiation, a somewhat controversial technology that kills bacteria in uncooked foods, could virtually eliminate the problems swirling around E. coli 0157:H7 contamination, a former retail executive told SN.

No more recalls, no more cumbersome tracebacks, no more contaminated ground beef. No more people getting sick from eating tainted hamburgers. Not if ground beef were irradiated.

“We offered it [irradiated ground beef] nine or 10 years ago, when I was at Clemens, and it did OK,” said Al Kober, director of retail at Certified Angus Beef, here.

Before he retired from Clemens Markets, Kulpsville, Pa., Kober had spent more than 50 years in retail.

“It could start with retailers sourcing irradiated ground beef. Wegmans [Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y.] has had the courage to promote irradiated ground beef, telling customers they can eat their hamburger rare, and Omaha Beef has been using irradiation for years,” Kober said in an earlier interview with SN.

He pointed out that the current methods and timing of testing for E. coli 0157:H7 contamination are not working to anyone's advantage.

“Testing for E. coli is being done too late in the supply chain. It's not nipped in the bud. If you find it at retail, or at the grinder, it's a little late, like shutting the gate after the cows are out.”

Then, Kober said, the retailer gets a black eye. All of that could be avoided with irradiation.

“I know it's expensive, but it's possible.”

He suggested that large retail chains could demand irradiated product from their supplier and then educate their own customers about irradiation. Wegmans has done it, and Clemens did it when Kober was meat director there.

“The industry is doing a great job of interventions, but we're not using all that's available to us,” Kober said.

“The technology is there. We need another killing cycle in grinds. Irradiate it before it's shipped. We can get to that point.”