As one of the few public health professionals who has taken a strong, public stance in favor of food irradiation, I agree with Iowa State University’s Dennis Olson that the public health community needs to exercise stronger leadership in support of irradiation (“Whatever Happened To Irradiation?” May 2 BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly).
However, the introduction of public health standards that we take for granted today – iodinization of salt, fluoridation of water, mandatory vaccinations for school attendance and, yes, pasteurization of milk – were not accomplished overnight. Despite advocacy beginning early in the 20th century, Minnesota did not require pasteurization until 1948.
The time for mandatory irradiation of ground beef and other high-risk foods, like lettuce and tomatoes, is coming. The case gets stronger with each new outbreak. In fact, a new E.coli O157:H7 outbreak in romaine lettuce was reported in Washington state last week, and the Food and Drug Administration had just advised restaurant chains to stop serving tomatoes because of an outbreak in 16 states traced to raw tomatoes.
Mandatory irradiation will come sooner if beef producers accept that irradiation is in their best interests. Are the costs of outbreaks – lost sales, lawsuits and recalls – really a necessary part of doing business? Are you at risk of losing your business if an outbreak is traced back to your establishment?
The bottom line for me though, is whether it would be acceptable for your child to end up on kidney dialysis in the hospital with hemolytic-uremic syndrome. Let's all get moving together on using irradiation to make ground beef even safer!