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Irradiated Foods


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regards the use of irradiation on foods as a “material fact,” and also as a food additive (Section 201 FD&C Act). Therefore, foods that have been irradiated are required to be specifically labeled as such. The 2002 Farm Bill authorizes potential use of the term “pasteurized” on any product that has been subjected to a significant pathogen reduction procedure of any type and allows companies to petition the FDA for the approval of using alternative labeling terms on irradiated food. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) awaits FDA’s decision on alternative labeling and in the meantime considers the use of pasteurized labels on irradiated meat to be unacceptable. In this context, CU’s position is that:
–Consumers have the right to know all “material facts” about the foods they eat. With this and other pertinent information, consumers can make their own informed choices about whether to buy irradiated foods for themselves and their families. Therefore, CU supports the continued labeling of irradiated foods with a clear indication that the food has been irradiated.
–Regarding the use of terms such as “pasteurized,” “cold pasteurized,” etc.: A zero-tolerance level or no detectable level of vegetative pathogens should be required and incorporated into the new definition of pasteurization developed in response to the 2002 Farm Bill. This standard will make any use on an irradiation label—for example, ” pasteurized through irradiation”–consistent in meaning and no less meaningful than what pasteurization has come to be interpreted in common usage.
For more information about the irradiation label on food, read Consumers Union’s evaluation of the irradiation label.
For meat and poultry products, consumers should contact the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555
For all other food products (including eggs), consumers should contact their local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) district office or visit FDA’s website to learn more about reporting problems.
The USDA has recently approved the purchase of irradiated meat for the National School Lunch Program. Read the press release issued by USDA. To find out if a school has opted to purchase and serve irradiated meat, contact the school or contact your local school district.
While irradiation may reduce the levels of bacteria on meat, it may not eliminate all bacteria that cause foodborne illness, nor does it protect irradiated foods from cross-contamination. Therefore, irradiated meat requires the same careful hygiene, handling, and thorough cooking procedures as regular meat.
While some schools may make health inspection reports available, they are not required by the government to do so. However, this information is publicly available by making a formal “freedom of information request” to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (a fee for copying materials may be applied).
Requests can be emailed, faxed, or sent by mail:
Email: jo-alice.rogers@hhs.gov
Fax: 202-690-8320
Mail: Department of Health and Human Services
Room 645-F
Humphrey Building
200 Independence Ave SW
Washington, D.C. 20201
If you have any further questions about submitting a request, call the Freedom of Information office in the Department of Health and Human Services at 202-690-7453.
for the Consumer Reports story on Irradiation click here.