Irradiation firm tests leafy greens for 'major' supplier - The Packer

Irradiation firm tests leafy greens for 'major' supplier

01/17/2013 09:22:00 AM
Coral Beach

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.

“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.

Tine PereiraPereiraWestern 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.

“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.

Sonia SalasSalasHe 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.

The temperature of the greens increases by less than 1 degree Celsius, thus maintaining the cold chain.

Other kinds of irradiation take longer, he said.

“Our quick turnaround time is our big advantage,” he said. “We can unload, treat and reload a semi trailer and get the product back on its way in two to three hours.”

That delay, even when extra transportation time to the facility is factored in, is negated by the fact that the treatment increases shelf life, Pereira and others said.

Christine BruhnBruhnChristine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California-Davis, has been studying irradiation for years.

She said decades of research have shown it kills 99.999% of pathogens and 90% to 99% of decay bacteria on leafy greens.

Brendan Niemira, lead scientist of food safety and intervention technologies at the Eastern Regional Research Center operated by the U.S, Department of Agriculture, reported similar kill rates.

Niemira added that the nutritional value and sensory quality of leafy greens are not significantly affected at the low doses used for fresh produce.

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Ronald Eustice    
Tucson, Arizona  |  January, 17, 2013 at 05:33 PM

Congratulations to Iotron and the major processor considering the use this effective, environmentally-friendly technology. Let's hope that the project is highly successful and that others follow their lead. The time is ripe to use irradiation as an additional food safety intervention to save human lives and protect the good name of companies and producers who have made major investments to make food safer. Forward!!! Ronald Eustice Food Quality & Safety Consultant

Allan Hogue    
Welland, Ontario  |  January, 18, 2013 at 03:59 PM

Electron beams have been used for a long time, even for welding. They can carry ions from the cathode . If this should not be a problem unless you apply the beam for hours but perception is a big factor in the food business. An ion trap is simple and proven old technology. No gray hair in Tino's picture? Good luck. allan

California  |  January, 18, 2013 at 05:32 PM

The Feds previously approved UV disinfection at prescribed energy and wavelengths for drinking water based upon damage found via PCR to pathogens, only later to find that the both some virus and some bacteria that were damaged by the radiation were able to self repair and become infective over a short period of time. Lets hope that the homework is done much better this time and that they have methodology that effectively provides 100 percent exposure so that the pathogens are actually destroyed. If that can be done without damage to the actual food product, that would be great.

BC  |  January, 21, 2013 at 12:54 PM

Glad to see a BC company advancing food safety technology. Since success can be affected by public perceptions/misconceptions, renaming the process to exclude the ir"radiation" term may be wise! Good luck! This is long overdue - think of the thousands of kgs of food/meat thrown away EVERY time there is an e coli or salmonella recall. Fresh, healthy food may become more affordable to everyone!

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