Health Canada announced Friday the launch of consultation on a proposal to allow irradiation of fresh and frozen ground beef to enhance food safety.
After a thorough safety review, Health Canada said in a press release it has determined that ground beef treated with irradiation is safe to eat and retains its nutritional value, taste, texture and appearance.
Following the largest recall of beef products in Canadian history, the Independent Expert Advisory Panel that reviewed the 2012 XL Foods Inc. recall made several recommendations to strengthen the food safety system, including that the beef industry should submit a proposal to Health Canada to permit irradiation as an effective food safety intervention.
Health Canada subsequently received a submission from industry and, following a scientific review of the submission, is proposing to authorize the irradiation of fresh and frozen raw ground beef to reduce the level of harmful bacteria.
Irradiation is a process in which food is exposed to low doses of ionizing radiation.
This can have several benefits to food safety, including reducing the level of bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter. It can also prevent premature spoilage and increase a food’s shelf life.
It is an optional tool that can be used by the food industry on certain foods to enhance their safety. Irradiation is meant to complement, not replace, existing food safety processing standards and practices, such as appropriate handling, sanitation and storage.
This is not a new process. Irradiation is already approved in Canada to treat potatoes, onions, wheat, flour, spices and seasoning preparations.
Irradiation has also been used as a sterilization technique for medical supplies, food packaging materials and cosmetic ingredients for many years.
More than 60 countries worldwide allow the irradiation of various foods. International organizations such as the World Health Organisation recognize irradiation as a safe and effective way of reducing disease-causing organisms in food, while preserving its nutritional qualities.
Ground beef that is irradiated under the proposed conditions retains its nutritional value, taste, texture and appearance. All irradiated foods must be clearly labelled. Packages must display both a written description as well as a distinctive symbol, the Radura.
Canadians will be consulted on the proposed regulatory changes that would permit the irradiation of ground beef for a 75 day consultation period, ending on September 1, 2016.
This proposal will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, on June 18, 2016.