USDA gives nod to irradiating meats

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the use of ionizing radiation to curb pathogens in raw meats such as ground beef, steaks, and pork chops. The rule, which goes into effect next month, requires labeling of treated meats.

Irradiation is “the only known method to eliminate deadly Escherichia coli O157:H7” in raw meats, the agency maintains. The technology also inactivates the parasite causing trichinosis and reduces bacterial contamination with Listeria, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. USDA estimates that treating one-quarter of the nation’s ground beef could cost meat handlers up to $90 million a year but reduce national health costs that result from foodborne disease by up to $200 million annually.

Existing rules already permit irradiation of fresh poultry, and manufacturers are petitioning the government for permission to begin irradiating processed meats, such as hot dogs.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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