Shippers still see irradiation as a technique for the future.
“It will be interesting to see where it will go. I think it has potential, and it’s already being performed, but there’s more research that needs to be done,” said Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales for Vision Import Group, River Edge, N.J.
“I won’t be surprised if we see it more in the future, but I can’t tell if it will be two years, five years or longer,” said Michael Warren, president of Central American Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.
“If it’s acceptable to the U.S. consumer, you’ll see it coming down the line in the future.”
Arved Deecke, founder of the Benebion irradiation facility in Matehuala, Mexico, said one of the most common misconceptions about irradiated fruit is that the plant uses nuclear waste.
“We use cobalt 60 as a radio isotope, which is a specially manufactured isotope, which is the same type of radiation used in the medical field, so it’s certainly not nuclear waste,” Deecke said.
Another misconception is that the process is a lot more expensive. Deecke said the process costs about the same as paying for a hot water bath treatment.
“It costs pretty much the same as it would if you need to pay for another company to do the hot water treatment for you,” he said.
“If you already have the equipment to do the treatment yourself and that equipment is fully depreciated, it would be cheaper to do that, of course.”
Deecke also said the quality of the fruit has to be added into the cost analysis.
“It depends on how you assign a cost to quality,” he said.
“Tommy atkins and haden varieties can show 25% shrunken shoulders from a hot water bath, especially with the smaller 12s and 14s, so if you put a price tag on that, irradiation is more than competitive.”
Deecke said baby mangoes and other varieties can’t easily be treated with hot water.
Better from smaller growers
He said irradiation may especially be economical for smaller growers because hot water bath treatments can require a minimum volume or price.
“Irradiation is more democratic. If you bring a ton, we treat a ton and you pay for a ton, so this might be a good option for smaller growers who want to offer a better quality product at competitive prices,” he said.
Roger Gay, chief executive officer of Cocanmex, Cuautitlan Izcalli, Mexico, agrees.
“The cost is similar in the end, especially for smaller growers. The permits and equipment for a hot water treatment facility can limit a lot of growers because it’s a heavy investment,” he said.
Another aspect of the cost factor: price for freight and shipping.
Greg Golden, a partner and sales manager at Amazon Produce Network, Mullica Hill, N.J., said though he was impressed with the quality of some irradiated varieties, he decided not to continue with the process because of the airfreight and low volumes.
“We believe that if ocean freight becomes a possibility one day, with improved packaging allowing better ventilation and controlled-atmosphere containers or CA bags, that it may be a viable business,” he said.
Still, he’s hopeful for the future.
“The consumer would love these mangoes,” he said.