Beam Me Up

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission.



No one wants to throw up in zero gravity, so space programs take great care to avoid food poisoning among astronauts. Irradiation has been used to pasteurize astronauts’ food since 1966. In fact, irradiation has been the most studied of all food-processing technologies over the past 60 years. Irradiation improves food safety by fatally damaging bacterial DNA. This stops the growth and reproduction of the bacteria that can cause food to spoil or people to become sick.

Irradiation is also approved as a food safety treatment in over 50 countries back here on earth. For example, France, Belgium and the Netherlands use irradiation to combat food-borne pathogens in frogs’ legs, seafood, and poultry. The U.S. has approved irradiation of meat. Canada has approved irradiation for spices, seasonings, flour, onions and seed potatoes, but not meat or poultry. Irradiation is safe for human food use at doses more than eight times higher than those approved for meat in the U.S. Irradiation does not cause the meat to become radioactive, and has less of an effect on food nutrients than cooking does, but irradiation can have undesirable effects on flavour or colour under some conditions. Continue reading

E-beam irradiation research: new fact sheet and video



Irradiation is approved for food treatment in over 50 countries. In Canada, irradiation is approved for spices, seasonings, flour, onions and potatoes. In the United States, irradiation is approved for use in meat at absorbed doses up to 7 kilo Gray (kGy), and it has been scientifically proven safe for food use at absorbed doses up to 60 kGy. Irradiation has insignificant effects on nutrients in beef, even at very high absorbed doses.

A recently-completed research project, funded by the National Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster, studied the effectiveness of low-dose electron-beam treatment (at 1 kGy) in eliminating harmful bacteria in beef trim used to make ground beef.  It also studied whether a panel of taste-testers could determine whether or not patties were made with e-beam treated beef based on color, aroma, texture, juiciness or flavor. Continue reading

Revisiting irradiation



This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted with permission.

Recent events have renewed interest and discussion regarding the potential use of irradiation to kill harmful bacteria in meat. Irradiation may provide an additional insurance step before meat leaves the plant. Continue reading

E. coli O157:H7: an Industry Research Priority

E. coli O157:H7, the cause for the recent, extensive beef recall, is one of the few types of E. coli that is dangerous to humans.  It is shed in the feces of many warm-blooded animals, including deer, geese, dogs and cattle. E. coli O157:H7 is harmless to most animals but can be dangerous to humans if contaminated water or undercooked meat is consumed, especially to those with an immature or weakened immune system.  Beef can become contaminated by cattle hides and equipment during slaughter and processing or by food handlers in the retail sector.

Potentially dangerous pathogens are uncommon in beef, which is due in large part to the industry focus on combatting E. coli O157:H7. Continue reading