Current Status

State of Public Readiness to Accept Food Irradiation

Indications are that in North America there is an unprecedented willingness to accept irradiated food. This positive attitude cuts across a broad cross section of society, includ ing regulators, politicians, public health professionals, academics, food processors, food industry associations, and the majority of consumers. Also, mass media has become more supportive. This favorable environment has developed relatively recently, and in a rather short time. The driving force behind these latest developments has been the explosive growth in public awareness of foodborne illness. This was unleashed by an outbreak of foodborne illness in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States in 1993, when several children died as a result of eating contaminated hamburgers, in a fast-food chain outlet. Since that time there have been a continuing series of additional, highly publicized recalls of contaminated products, in some cases accompanied by plant closures and business failures. The net result is that consumers have become highly sensitized to the issue of foodborne pathogens like E. coli 0157:H7, listeria, salmonella, Campylobacter, vibrio, and the like. The heightened level of consumer awareness and demand for safer food has led to implementation of new, more stringent food safety regulations in the United States, with specific pathogen reduction standards, increased testing and mandatory HACCP plans.

Along with the consumer awareness factor, there is a growing realization among food manufacturers of the limitations of end-product testing to combat foodborne disease, and of the need for an effective kill step to eliminate pathogens from their product. Radiation pasteurization of those foods that are at high risk of being contaminated is increasingly recognized as a safe and effective intervention technology to help solve this problem (16,17). The 1998 consumer survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute in the United States clearly reveals that the majority of consumers are willing to purchase irradiated foods (18). This survey finding confirms the positive results obtained with real, albeit limited (but growing), market experience in the United States in the last few years. In addition, it is becoming more evident that as consumers learn more about the process, their willingness to accept it increases.

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