(Nov. 6) A recent survey conducted at the University of California-Davis shows consumer support for irradiated food.

Only 3% of consumers surveyed opposed having irradiated produce offered in supermarkets, said Christine Bruhn, director of the center for consumer research at the university, after conducting a study of 300 consumers to determine their receptiveness of irradiated food.

The study found 60% would choose irradiated products and nearly 40% said they would even pay more for it.

The study group was asked to view an eight-minute video produced at Purdue University and funded through a $500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. The educational video focused on the benefits of irradiating meat and poultry, but Bruhn said the message also applies to fresh produce.

“We’re working on a grant to develop messages that would be specific to irradiation of leafy greens,” she said. “Other colleagues are working on irradiation of leafy greens from the perspective of a kill rate needed for E. coli and salmonella, and to explore further the impact on quality.”

Eric Schwartz, president of Monterey, Calif.-base Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., said the company has conducted extensive irradiation studies of its own over the last year.

“I think we could get it through the consumers if it works,” he said. “The problem now is (determining) the dose that’s required to kill pathogens.”

John Baillie, owner of Baillie Family Farms/Tri-Counties Packing Co., Spreckels, Calif., has been a vocal proponent of irradiating fresh produce.

“A lot of stuff that consumers buy right now is irradiated, and they aren’t even aware of it,” he said.

Baillie said what worries him most if irradiation is not adapted for fresh produce are future pathogens.
“We have to look forward at what new strains of pathogens we’re going to be dealing with 10 years from now and is irradiation going to be the cure-all,” he said.

“Every day, we sell product it’s always in the back of my mind — what if someone gets sick?” said Michael Boggiatto, president of Boggiatto Produce Inc., Salinas, Calif. “I have been a positive backer of irradiation for years, and I’ve always thought of irradiation as being a viable kill step for produce.”