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Preventing E. coli Outbreaks Is Easier Than You Think

Food safety and technology expert Dr. Christine Bruhn explains the surprising reason that we don't use a widely-accepted technology to prevent food-borne illnesses such as the recent E. coli outbreak.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
Episode #505
image of farmer walking in lettuce field

Dr. Bruhn explained how and where irradiation could be used to eliminate harmful bacteria, and how this affects the taste, texture, and nutritional value of foods. She then shared the shocking reason that this technology is not being more widely used to protect us from food-borne illness: an outdated Congressional ruling that defines irradiation as a food additive (rather than a process). This mischaracterization means that the technology can only be used on a few individually approved crops. Not only does this limit its usefulness, but it also makes adopting this potentially life-saving technology prohibitively expensive for growers.

Consumers are also leery of irradiation. But Dr. Bruhn has found that, while a high percentage of consumers say at first they would not want irradiated foods, as soon as they are given more information about what irradiation is and does, acceptance soars.

Many of the concerns consumers have about irradiation are simply based on a lack of understanding about what this technology is and does. More legitimate concerns that may have existed decades ago have been put to rest by decades of subsequent research.

Although she is in favor of transparent labeling that would allow consumers to choose for themselves, Dr. Bruhn argues that the time has long since come for this technology to be more widely used, saving both lives and livelihoods.

Could the next outbreak be prevented by saner regulations regarding irradiation? Perhaps. But we may need to speak up and let our lawmakers and lettuce growers know that we’re tired of preventable outbreaks and ready to join the rest of the world in embracing this solution.

Please click the audio player to hear our entire conversation.

Additional Resources

Overview of Irradiation of Food and Packaging (FDA)

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