Health Panel Urges Irradiation of Ground Meats

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In light of the latest recall of ground beef because of contamination by potentially lethal E. coli O157:H7 bacteria, scientists and physicians associated with the American Council on Science and Health today urged consumers to demand that such products be irradiated to prevent future illnesses.

On July 19, the USDA expanded an earlier recall of ground meat products produced by ConAgra to include approximately 19 million pounds of ground beef products. Thus far, nineteen people have been reported to have become ill after consuming ground beef produced by ConAgra between April 12 and July 11, 2002.

E. coli O157:H7 is a particularly virulent strain of bacteria that was responsible for causing the deaths of four children and illnesses in hundreds of people who ate contaminated hamburgers in 1993.

While industry and government officials investigate the current situation and endeavor to prevent future occurrences of contamination, there is a simple solution that can certainly help prevent consumer illness irradiation.

Irradiation of ground meat products (the meat most likely to cause problems when contaminated) kills bacteria without harming either the flavor or nutritive value of the meat. It does not make the food radioactive. Food irradiation has been studied for over forty years and has been shown to be an effective means of ensuring food safety.

Food processors have been slow to adopt irradiation out of concerns about consumer acceptance. Yet retail sales of irradiated beef have been widely accepted when consumers are informed of the product's improved safety profile.

"Consumers should be cooking ground meat products properly," said Dr. Ruth Kava, ACSH nutrition director. "That means, for example, cooking burgers until they're 160 degrees." Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, ACSH president added that, "Consumers should be demanding that irradiation be added to the arsenal of techniques routinely used to safeguard our food supply."