Dairy Queen® (DQ) announced a major expansion in late August of its Minnesota market test of irradiated ground beef. Beginning Oct. 1, the Minneapolis, MN-based, fast-food chain made participation available on a voluntary basis to all 147 DQ Brazier® outlets in Minnesota.

Previously, irradiated patties were being served exclusively in 53 DQ Brazier locations in the state. Brazier franchises grill and serve hot foods such as hamburgers and chicken. Another 89 locations in Minnesota are without such grill capabilities.

The irradiated patties — which cost 1½¢ more/patty, a cost DQ is not passing on to customers — are treated with the SureBeam® electronic pasteurization process. Using normal household electricity, the process helps eliminate harmful bacteria such as E.coli 0157:H7 without changing the food's taste and nutrient profile.

Dean Peters, director of communications for DQ, says completion of the statewide rollout is expected by month's end. The rollout includes a day of training for on-site personnel at each participating location.

“It's all about education,” Peters says. “We want our customers to know what we're doing and why. We also want our on-location staffs to be able to intelligently answer questions from customers.”

Just how many stores will adopt irradiated product remains to be seen, Peters says. “In the past, we've had a few locations that have opted to take a wait-and-see approach on how the tests fare at other locations before adopting it themselves, but none has been totally against it,” Peters says.

During the recent Minnesota State Fair, Peters was among personnel from DQ and other commercial firms involved in irradiated product that cooperated with the Minnesota Beef Council (MBC) to educate fair-goers on food irradiation's benefits and safety. Irradiated ground beef has been the focal point of MBC's Minnesota State Fair booth the past several years.

“We served samples, passed out literature and talked one-on-one with folks,” Peters says. He termed the response by fair-goers as “very favorable.”

DQ's plans for irradiated ground beef following a successful statewide rollout are undecided at this point, Peters says.

“We want to make sure we have all our ducks in a row. Right now, we're just looking within Minnesota. Once we complete this rollout, we'll look at the next step,” he says.

Minnesota and Minnesotans continue to be at the epicenter of the irradiated ground beef movement. Using a partnership between Minnesota beef producers, public health agencies, state government and a Minnesota ground beef processor, Minnesota became the first state to offer such products at retail in May 2000.

So far, national commodity groups, major packers (with the exception of Excel) and major retail chains have hesitated to get involved in the public education effort on irradiation. DQ officials say consumer education is a major reason for its Minnesota success with irradiated product.

Lacking a national standard bearer for the irradiation cause, the MBC has increasingly been asked by other states to advise them on implementing Minnesota's successful model. Thus far, MBC's executive director Ron Eustice and staff dietitian Michelle Torno have worked with beef councils in Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia. Eustice says that by November, MBC will add the states of Alabama, Kentucky, New Mexico, Nevada and Maine to that list.

Beef Quality Challenge

Almost $8,000 in prizes, courtesy of the good folks at Zinpro, are on the line in our annual Beef Quality Challenge. The insert, tucked between pages 18 and 19 of this issue, represents the fifth year that BEEF has cooperated with Dan Hale and his Texas A&M colleagues in presenting this unique and fun educational tool to the industry. Give it a look. Maybe your photo will appear with the other winners in our January 2003 issue.