A British Columbia company hopes to begin irradiating packaged leafy greens for a major U.S. food supplier within six months.
Tino Pereira, chief executive officer for Iotron Industries Inc., said client tests have been completed and the company is applying for certification from the Food and Drug Administration.
“We have a customer, but I can’t name them yet,” Pereira said.
Courtesy IotronAt Iotron's facility, product travels on a conveyor through a tunnel where it is exposed to an electron beam via a magnetic field to kill bacteria and foodborne pathogens. No radioactive materials are involved in the process. The 22-year-old Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, company expanded into the U.S. in March 2012 with a 54,000-square-foot facility in Columbus City, Ind.
Pereira said the plant has been working with the medical, aerospace and defense industries, providing sterilization and resin curing processes.
Unlike gamma ray or X-ray irradiation, Iotron uses electron beam technology. Pereira said no radioactive materials are involved.
Pereira “We take electricity and run it through an electron beam accelerator and deliver it to the product via a magnetic field,” he said. “The beam kills pests and pathogens by attacking their DNA.”
The FDA approved such treatments of fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce in 2008, but a lack of facilities along with consumer misperceptions and producers’ cost concerns have kept the produce industry from embracing the technology, Pereira said.
Western Growers science and technology manager Sonia Salas said irradiation is gaining more attention, especially as pathogen-related recalls continue to plague the produce industry.
She said it has the potential to be beneficial to growers and shippers of leafy greens.
Salas “One of the big hurdles is the investment needed to have (treatment) facilities,” Salas said.
“At this moment it is really difficult for an individual producer to adopt it. Regional or local facilities could be an option to … minimize the cost.”
Pereira said the cost of e-beam treatment should be balanced with its benefits.
He described it as a risk mitigation tool for food safety issues. For bagged leafy greens, he said e-beam treatment is best provided just before the product is delivered to retail so that pathogens introduced along the supply chain will be destroyed as close to the end-user as possible.
The process takes microseconds of beam exposure, Pereira said.