Friday, December 21, 2007

Irradiation

Responding to a WSJ blurb (Dec. 19) about the U.S.'s attempts to safely reduce occurrences of E. coli in meat, Ralph W., M.D., writes a letter supporting irradiation. And no, it doesn't make the food radioactive AT ALL, contrary to urban legend and/or popular belief. In particular:

"Irradiation of the final product with Cobalt 60 or Cesium 137 is safe, effective and economical. It kills the bacteria and does no harm to the food. The process was approved by government regulators years ago but never widely used because of irrational fears of adverse effects..."

If you take an undergrad microbiology course, you will learn this, as I did. Shame on me for not thinking of it immediately when I read the article!

2 comments:

Stephen Renico said...

Doesn't just, plain, cooking meat well eliminate things like e-coli?

Hannah J said...

Yes, in most cases. But the article is talking about treating meats before, not after, consumer consumption. No one wants to handle a burger laden with bacteria; sometimes certain kinds of microbes form what are called endospores when subjected to stresses like heat. This allows them to bunker down, so to speak, until more favorable conditions arise - e.g. room-temperature potato salad.

There's my long answer to your short question. Yes, cooking helps. But irradiation is a safeguard.