Irradiated beef made its debut at the Minnesota State Fair last month and was well received by consumers.

More than 300 lbs. of irradiated ground beef were served to fair-goers by the Minnesota Beef Council (MBC) during the 12-day event held in St.Paul. It's the first time irradiated beef has been offered to the public since it gained FDA approval nearly a year and a half ago.

The beef samples were given out along with information about irradiated food products as part of an on-going effort by the MBC to educate consumers on the benefits and safety of irradiated red meat.

Irradiation is the only known method to eliminate E. coli in raw meat. More studied than microwaving, heating and freezing combined, food irradiation has been shown to have no effect on taste, texture or appearance.

Among the nation's largest attended state fairs, the irradiated burgers were willingly sampled by consumers. "Less than a dozen negative comments were received," says Mower Co. Cattle Association president John Bhend.

Most consumers were curious about the product, and once their questions were answered they supported the irradiation process, according to Karen Holtmeier, director of nutrition and consumer information for the MBC.

That reaction is what the MBC was hoping for. "Our plan was to start promoting irradiated beef early, so when consumers see it in the store they are familiar with it," she says.

The state fair samples also created a positive media-frenzy, MBC staff granted several print and broadcast interviews throughout the two-week-long fair.

Coming Soon Holtmeier says Minnesotans can probably expect to see irradiated beef in the marketplace early in the year 2000. An irradiator is currently being built near Sioux City, IA.

Minneapolis retailers have already expressed interest in stocking irradiated beef products, she says.

And, studies confirm they should have demand. Research conducted at the University of California - Davis indicates 60-80% of consumers are willing to buy irradiated food products.

Irradiated meat will cost about 2-5 cents more per pound, Bhend says.