A Michigan State University Extension researcher is helping a startup company improve the safety of leafy greens and other foods.

Lansing-based agricultural engineer Bradley Marks and Sanghyup Jeong, a visiting assistant professor, have proven that X-rays can kill bacterial pathogens, such as E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella, on the most delicate vegetables without causing cell damage. An added benefit is extended shelf life.

The Food and Drug Administration earlier this year approved irradiation of iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach.

The researchers applied a higher X-ray dose than is used for medical imaging yet less than is used by competing irradiation methods. That means less protective shielding, so the equipment is more compact and food companies can install it at their processing plants. Much of fresh produce currently has to be transported to special facilities to be treated.

The researchers  seek to validate technology that is being commercialized by Rayfresh Foods of Ann Arbor.

Before regulators and the market will accept irradiation devices, their use for each food and target bacterium must be scientifically validated. The next commodity they’ll examine is almonds.

Irradiation from other sources has long been used to essentially pasteurize ground meat, seafood and other products without cooking it.

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