It's been nearly a year since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved irradiation of red meat last December. Since then, consumer awareness of the technology has grown, but when will we see irradiated red meat in the meatcase?

"Currently, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is putting the finishing touches on the preliminary rules from USDA. Until then, irradiation of red meat is on hold," says Dennis Olson, director of the Utilization Center for Agricultural Products at Iowa State University.

The preliminary guidelines will be given a 60- to 90-day comment period before final rules are issued, says Olson. That could be a six-month process.

But once in place, irradiation will provide a safeguard to control disease-causing microorganisms such as E.coli and salmonella in red meat. Irradiation also extends the shelf life of meat products and fruits and vegetables.

"There aren't going to be comments on whether it's safe or not," says Olson. Most discussion will concern labeling, packaging and other technicalities, he says.

For example, because irradiation occurs after a product has been packaged, new packaging must be approved that is also compatible with irradiation, Olson says.

Since ground beef is an item that requires little packaging he says that could be one of the first to find it's way into test markets.

And while it may be a few months before irradiated red meat finds its way into the meatcase, grocery stores are getting ready to offer other irradiated food products, says Anna Matz of the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA).

"We've seen a real surge in interest and acceptance of irradiated food products in the past few months," says Matz. According to a new report by GMA and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), 80% of consumers say they would be likely to purchase a food product for themselves or their children if it was labeled, "irradiated to kill harmful bacteria."

Based on this acceptance, Matz says grocery stores could gear up to offer a line of irradiated food products to consumers. "Chicken, pork, fruits and vegetables are already approved."

Al Kober, meat and seafood merchandising manager for 16 Pennsylvania-based Clemens Market stores, says he's ready to offer irradiated products. He hopes to have irradiated poultry in the meatcase by January.

"We're going to give consumers a choice, much like the choice for natural beef or organic fruits and vegetables," Kober says.

Once industry sees how test markets respond to irradiated products, Kober predicts more companies will begin to offer irradiated foods.

Consumers can expect cost for irradiated products to be about 10 more per pound, Kober says.

For more information on irradiation, a copy of the report "Consumers' Views on Food Irradiation" or to take a virtual reality tour through an irradiation facility visit the GMA website www.gmabrands.com