Proposals for irradiating ground beef back on table

Irradiated ground beef, such as these burger patties, is expected to have a lower potential presence of harmful pathogens such as E. coli. (Stephen Ausmus photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Regulations to allow Canadian beef processors to irradiate fresh and/or frozen raw ground beef for food safety purposes will soon be up for public comment.

Health Canada on Monday served notice it will soon propose amendments to its Food and Drug Regulations that would add fresh and frozen ground beef to its list of allowed irradiated foods.

The proposed amendments would “allow, but not require” packers and processors to use irradiation as “a tool to improve the safety of their products.”

The new rule would also require the irradiated beef to be “clearly labelled as such,” as per existing labelling rules for such foods.

It would also set a maximum absorbed dose for the products in question, as well as the allowable radiation source for the intended purpose.

The amendments are to be published in the Canada Gazette for a 75-day comment period later this spring, Health Canada said.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association petitioned for such approvals in 1998, after which Health Canada completed a scientific review of the process in 2003 and made a “positive recommendation” on the proposal, the CCA said at the time.

A regulatory proposal made it to the Canada Gazette in November 2002 and a Canadian code of practice for food irradiation was developed, but Health Canada said in 2012 said that “because of significant public concerns related to irradiation,” the federal government didn’t move forward with regulations at that time.

The CCA announced in 2013 it would submit its paperwork again, at Health Canada’s request, to reactivate the process.

In food preservation, ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays, X-rays or electrons, is used at wavelengths capable of damaging microorganisms that contaminate food or cause spoilage.

According to the Canadian Meat Council, food irradiation is a “cold process” that doesn’t significantly increase the temperature or change the characteristics of most foods. Fresh or frozen meat can be irradiated without cooking it, the council said.

At doses used to extend shelf life or to control harmful bacteria such as E. coli, nutritional losses in food from irradiation are “less than or about the same as those that result from cooking or freezing,” the council said.

Groups such as the CMC and Consumers’ Association of Canada have also pressed for expanded use of the technology, saying that by reducing potential presence of pathogens it would “reduce human illness and suffering; decrease healthcare expenditures; improve confidence in Canada’s food safety system (and) benefit Canadians economically.”

Irradiation has been allowed on refrigerated and frozen meat in the U.S. since 1997, but has been cleared in Canada for use on only a few products: potatoes and onions, to inhibit sprouting during storage; wheat, flour and whole wheat flour for insect control in stored food; and whole or ground spices and dehydrated seasonings, to reduce microbial load. — Network

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