FDA Gives Approval For The Irradiation Of Shellfish

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last Friday that it will allow processors to irradiate shellfish to kill harmful pathogens, following a food safety assessment that determined that the process poses no adverse health risks and does not destroy nutrients. The FDA is amending the current food additive regulations to allow the safe use of ionizing radiation on crustaceans (e.g., crab, shrimp, lobster, crayfish, and prawns) to control foodborne pathogens  and extend the shelf life.

The agency said approval of the process in which food is exposed to small amounts of ionizing radiation, is based on a petition from the National Fisheries Institute, and applies to raw, frozen, cooked, partially cooked, shelled or dried crustaceans. It also covers cooked or ready-to-cook crustaceans processed with spices or small amounts of other food ingredients.

Previously, federal officials have approved irradiation for poultry, meat, molluscan shellfish, iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach.

“Irradiation continues to be used as a crutch by FDA as a substitute for hiring more inspection personnel and investing in a robust laboratory system that would prevent unsafe seafood from entering the marketplace,” said advocacy group Food & Water Watch in criticism of the ruling. “We import over 80 percent of our seafood, and much of that comes from countries in Asia, such as the People’s Republic of China, that raise their seafood in squalid conditions. The expansion of irradiation to cover more seafood products will allow those countries to continue to raise their seafood products in filthy and unsanitary factory fish farms since irradiation will be used as the ‘magic bullet’ to make the products safe to eat from microbiological contaminants.”

Under the rule, irradiated foods will have to bear the international symbol for irradiation – the radura -- and carry the statement "Treated with radiation" or "Treated by irradiation" on the food label. 

At the maximum permitted dose of 6.0 kiloGray, this new use of ionizing radiation will reduce, but not entirely eliminate, the number of pathogenic (illness causing) microorganisms in or on crustaceans. The maximum dosage of irradiation approved is capable of reducing a number of pathogens that may be found in crustaceans, including Listeria, Vibrio, and E. coli. Irradiation is not a substitute for proper food-handling practices; therefore crustaceans treated with ionizing radiation must be stored, handled, and cooked in the same way as non-irradiated foods.

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