A technician operates the controls of a Genesis irradiation machine, preparing to lower airtight stainless-steel boxes into the unit’s underground pool where gamma rays provide phytosanitary treatment.
A technician operates the controls of a Genesis irradiation machine, preparing to lower airtight stainless-steel boxes into the unit’s underground pool where gamma rays provide phytosanitary treatment.

Importers could have an additional option for phytosanitary treatment of fresh produce this spring at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, easing logistics and decreasing costs, particularly for mangoes from Pakistan.

Now many mangoes from Pakistan are routed from their port of entry to the Sadex Corp. facility in Sioux City, Iowa, for irradiation before they can be distributed across the U.S.

Frank Benso, president of Gateway America, said with the installation of a Genesis II cobalt-60 irradiation machine at Gulfport importers will be able to save time and money. The project was recently completed, and Benso said he is working on final certification from the Animal and Plant Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Irradiation site being built on Gulf Coast“We will be able to accept air cargo, ocean freight and (over-the-road) shipments,” Benso said Feb. 11. “We plan to submit the certification paperwork to APHIS this week.”

Once that documentation reaches APHIS officials, the Gulfport facility could be certified in 90 days or less, said Tanya Espinosa, APHIS spokeswoman. The review will include an on-site inspection. The agency OK’d the placement of the facility at Gulfport last year, but additional certification is required for the actual equipment.

William Watson, executive director of the National Mango Board, Orlando, Fla., said the organization welcomes any additional treatment facilities to meet the phytosanitary requirements for imported mangoes.

“We’ve all been eating irradiated food for years,” Watson said. “A new facility in Gulfport would be a great option.”

Benso said in addition to providing phytosanitary services for imported produce, the Gateway America facility will provide food safety treatments for domestic and international produce. He noted that irradiation not only kills pests that APHIS is concerned about, but it also kills pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria.

“I see domestic applications for food safety measures equal to if not stronger than our phytosanitary services ultimately,” Benso said. “Irradiation also kills decay bacteria, so shelf life is extended.”

Along with irradiation services, Benso said the Gateway America facility at Gulfport has 20,000 square feet of refrigerated storage space and 20,000 square feet of dry storage space. He left room to install a second Genesis II irradiation machine.

Benso is also in the initial planning stages to build irradiation facilities on the West Coast, in New England and at other locations around the U.S. He plans to use Genesis II machines from Gray*Star Inc., Mount Arlington, N.J.

Irradiation site being built on Gulf CoastUp and running in Hawaii

Produce growers and shippers in Hawaii have been using a Genesis II since the end of January, said Michael Kohn, president of Pa’ina Hawaii, which repacks, irradiates and ships produce from its Kunia, Oahu, location.

The location was the former home of a Del Monte pineapple operation and is about 20 miles from the Honolulu airport. Kohn said the site is irradiating about 50,000 pounds a week now. He anticipates that to triple that in the next month.

Commodities going through the Pa’ina Hawaii irradiation location include papayas, sweet potatoes and fresh herbs, Kohn said. He plans to seek certification to treat imports as well as produce leaving Hawaii.

“Unlike hot water treatment, with irradiation the (produce) is treated in its final shipping container so the shipper controls the quality that goes into their box,” Kohn said.

The Genesis II irradiation units are specifically designed for foods, in contrast to other irradiation equipment that is designed for sterilizing medical equipment and treating plastics. Those multi-use units cost about $20 million while the Genesis II costs about $1.8 million plus about $2.2 million for the cobalt-60 and other costs, said Martin Stein, chief executive officer of Gray*Star.

“The Genesis II is specifically for perishable food,” Stein said. “We can maintain the cold chain for perishables because it doesn’t take very long for the treatment. We designed Genesis II for the agricultural community.”

Benso said his facility in Gulfport will be able to treat about 140,000 pounds of product per day. Depending on the density of the produce it takes about 6 to 15 minutes of exposure, he said.