According to the foodborne-illness data crunched by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in its annual “Outbreak Alert!” report, a pound of fish and shellfish is 29 times more likely to cause illness than the safest food category, a pound of dairy foods. After dairy, produce is the second-safest category of food, followed by pork and beef, then eggs and poultry.

“Outbreak Alert!” includes nearly 5,800 outbreaks that occurred between 1990 and 2006 for which both the food and the pathogen are identified. The data set has been published by CSPI for the last 10 years (see the article at: www.cspinet.org/new/200811251.html).

Of course, as the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) points out in the Feb. 15 issue of its AAMPlifier newsletter, dairy products have the advantage over the other foods because of the “kill step” of pasteurization. While the AAMP article calls irradiation “simply another tool to ensure the safety of” fresh meats, it could be every much the silver bullet for ground beef that pasteurization is for dairy products if food and producer organizations actually pushed consumer education on the technology.

The beef industry, in particular, which has expended, and continues to expend, millions of checkoff dollars on interventions to eliminate E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef, should be pushing this technology harder than anyone else. It’s interesting that despite all the effort and allocation of shrinking checkoff dollars that have gone into battling ground beef’s E. coli O157:H7 problem, USDA sampling of ground beef turned up twice the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 positives in 2008 over the previous year.