Irradiated Ground Beef: What does that mean for me?

You may have heard news that the Government of Canada has now approved the use of irradiation for both fresh and frozen raw ground beef in Canada. What does that mean for you and your ground beef?

As with any new technology, we all have questions and concerns, especially when it comes to our food. We’re here to help with some resources and background information to keep you informed. And as always, if you find gaps in the information you’re looking for and/or want to have a conversation, please type into our Comment Box and we will get back to you.

The News

On Feb 22nd 2017 the Government of Canada approved the use of irradiation as an additional food safety measure for fresh or frozen raw ground beef. After a detailed review of the scientific data that began in 2001, Health Canada findings conclude that irradiation for ground beef is safe, effective, and does not significantly impact nutritional quality when used in accordance with Canadian requirements. Irradiated ground beef has been available for sale in the USA since 2000. For those of us who are ‘cross border shoppers’, you may already be familiar with irradiated ground beef (pictured here):

U.S. examples of irradiated ground beef packaging in-store

It will take time for this process to be scaled up for production in Canada, so you won’t likely see irradiated ground beef in stores until a year from now. Irradiation of ground beef will not be mandatory but it will be available as a choice. There will be a clear designation on packages of irradiated ground beef so it can be easily identified. Irradiated ground beef will be marked with a symbol (as shown) and a statement such as ‘treated with irradiation’. These label identifiers are required and will be monitored and enforced by CFIA:

The symbol to identify irradiated foods in Canada

Irradiated Foods – The Backstory

Although this process may seem new, the benefits of irradiation for food safety was first discovered at the start of the 19th century. Food irradiation has been used in over 60 countries for a variety of foods including meat, poultry, grain, eggs, seeds and spices and in recent years, for treatment of fruits and vegetables. In Canada, onions, potatoes, wheat, flour, and whole wheat flour were approved for irradiation in the 1960’s and whole or ground spices and dehydrated seasonings were approved in 1984. Irradiation is also widely used for sterilizing medical and household products such as food packaging, cosmetics, contact lens solution and a wide variety of supplies used in hospitals. Irradiation of food has been endorsed by many public health agencies including the World Health Organization.

Why irradiate ground beef

Irradiating ground beef can reduce or eliminate E.coli O157 and other disease-causing bacteria if they are present. These bacteria can cause foodborne illness and have been the basis for some ground beef recalls in the past. Irradiation is a food safety intervention that takes place after the ground beef is packaged so it is not handled again until you begin to prepare it for cooking.

What’s the process?

Ground beef can be irradiated using ordinary electricity to create energy that destroys harmful bacteria without cooking or changing the meat and without the use of chemicals. Irradiated foods do not become radioactive. Irradiation will not be a substitute for hygienic practices but is an effective additional food safety measure. For complete information on safe food handling of all foods, visit the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education site: www.befoodsafe.ca

Having irradiation available for ground beef is another example of Canada’s commitment to strengthen food safety controls and management practices when it comes to having some of the safest, trusted and best beef in the world. Canada Beef supports the principle that Canadians should have the choice to purchase ground beef treated by irradiation, a scientifically proven and highly effective means to enhance food safety.

Want more info?

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/legislation/acts-reg-lois/frp-ppr/2016-2018/beef-irradiation-boeuf-eng.php

http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/food-irradiation-1.3994799

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