(Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m.) Electronic pasteurization, or irradiation, still is a mystery for many in the fresh produce community, but there is one place where people can see, taste and touch irradiated fruits and vegetables.

The National Center for Electron Beam Research at Texas A&M University in College Station operates in the Electron Beam Food Research facility, which was established in 2001 to research the feasibility and processes for irradiating meat and produce.

Since the FDA approved irradiation as a kill step for pathogens for spinach and lettuce this summer, more people are interested in the technology, said Suresh Pillai, the facility director.

“There is definitely a growing interest in this technology among all sectors of the food chain,” he said. “Unfortunately, many among the growers, packers, marketers, retailers and foodservice industry do not have accurate and specific information about what this technology is all about.”

Irradiation misconceptions common

Misconceptions on what irradiation does to product appearance and consumer perception are common, Pillai said.

“Many in the industry incorrectly assume that consumers will not accept this technology,” he said. “This is truly an urban legend.”

The center has studied the correct dose for a kill step for pathogens including E. coli O157:H7 in spinach and lettuce and the optimal packaging to hold spinach and lettuce so that the process can be used on a commercial level.

Tasting is believing

For those who want to get their hands on real irradiated products, the center is open for tours and customized workshops.

“We can perform specific studies including consumer acceptance and consumer surveys related to this technology,” Pillai said. “We can also organize informal taste-testing events so that individuals can see, touch and taste electronically pasteurized products.”

Pillai said he thinks it is important for the industry to become familiar with the technology.

“Unless and until you understand this technology and know what it can and cannot do it will be impossible to effectively champion it within one’s own organization,” he said.

More information about the center and a video tour can be found at www.tamu.edu/ebeam.

Texas center offers taste of irradiated produce
A worker runs a demonstration of electronic pasteurization at the Electron Beam Food Research facility at Texas A&M University in College Station. The facility offers tours and workshops where participants can see, touch and taste electronically pasteurized products, says Suresh Pillai, facility director.