USDA says there's merit to an American Meat Institute (AMI) petition filed in 2005 that calls for the use of low-penetration, low-dose, electron-beam irradiation on chilled beef carcasses to kill bacteria such as E. coli.

By deeming it a “processing aid,” typically applied to such processes as lactic acid washes of carcasses (antimicrobial purposes) for which USDA doesn't require declaration on product labels, the “treated with irradiation” label wouldn't be necessary.

USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) defines processing aids as “substances that are added to a food for their technical or functional effect in the processing but are present in the finished food at insignificant levels and do not have any technical or functional effect in that food,” according to the petition.

FSIS was to hold a public meeting on the AMI proposal on Sept. 18, and is accepting comments on the petition until Oct. 18.

To read the petition, go to www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/Petition_Carcass_Surface_Irrad.pdf.