Neil Mermelstein

Neil H. Mermelstein

The first commercial packages of irradiated beef hit the retail consumer market in May 2000. The frozen beef patties were manufactured and marketed by Huisken Meats, Chandler, Minn., and irradiated by electron-beam (e-beam) irradiation—as opposed to gamma irradiation from cobalt-60—by the SureBeam Corp., Sioux City, Iowa, a wholly owned subsidiary of Titan Corp., San Diego, Calif.Tree-ripened papaya pasteurized in Hawaii by e-beam irradiation, will be commercially available in the mainland U.S. for the first time this month.

The irradiated patties are being sold under the brand names Huisken™ and Taste Club™. The front of the package, shown in the photo at right, bears the statement, “Treated by irradiation,” and the back bears the radura, the international symbol for irradiated products, and the SureBeam® “seal of added safety.”

The patties are the first beef products to be irradiated since the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s December 1999 approval of use of ionizing radiation to treat refrigerated or frozen raw meat to reduce levels of foodborne pathogens and extend shelf life. The Food and Drug Administration had approved the process in 1997. A December 1999 petition from FSIS to FDA to extend the approval to unrefrigerated meat is currently under review by FDA.

According to Cliff Albertson (phone 507-442-8594), Sales Manager for Huisken Meats, the company began selling the irradiated product in 84 retail stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., on May 16 and 17. By the end of the week, the product was in 150 stores, and by the end of May it was in 250 retail stores in five states.

It’s still early, he added, so consumer acceptance is difficult to measure. But in the first week, retailers had reordered the product as many as four times. They reported a great deal of consumer interest, extremely positive, he said.

The patties are produced, shrink-wrapped in 1-lb stacks of four quarter-pound patties, frozen, put into 2-lb cartons,  and sealed. The cartons are put into 20-lb master cases and shipped to the SureBeam plant in Sioux City, Iowa, where they are pasteurized by e-beam irradiation. The process is extremely rapid, Albertson said. The truck backs up to the dock and is unloaded, the cases are depalletized, passed through the irradiator on a conveyor belt, then repalletized. The whole process takes 45 minutes to 1 hour and produces virtually no temperature change. Then the product goes to the retailer if ordered in load quantities, or back to Huisken through regular shipping channels. The next time the product is out of the sealed container is in the consumer’s home, he said.

Wil Williams (phone 858-552-9724), Titan’s Vice President of Corporate Communications, said that by looking for the SureBeam seal of added safety on packages of Huisken beef patties, “consumers will know that the products they choose have been electronically pasteurized to remove the threat of dangerous foodborne bacteria.” Nevertheless, just as with pasteurized milk, the pasteurized beef must be handled properly during distribution and by the consumer for safety.

In addition to Huisken Meats, SureBeam has entered into agreements with many major food producers to use its patented technology, including companies representing 75% of the nation’s 9 billion lb of ground beef production and approximately 50% of the nation’s nearly 35 billion lb of poultry production per year. SureBeam is also working with Kraft Foods, Inc., on use of e-beam pasteurization of precooked processed foods.

The SureBeam system uses commercial electricity to accelerate electrons through food products, killing bacteria instantly and enhancing the food’s quality and extending its shelf life without changing its taste or texture. The system accurately measures, records, and validates the dosimetric level of every item. Because the irradiation process takes place in less than 1 sec, temperature changes remain less than 1ºF. The Sioux City plant—which was described in the Processing column on p. 88 of the August 1999 issue—opened last October and became operational on December 2. It began commercially processing product for testing purposes on February 23, 2000, and Huisken began marketing the product on May 16.

The plant can process beef at 30–40,000 lb/hr, or 250 million lb/yr. The high-speed facility takes only a fraction of a second to pasteurize the product. The system provides 1.5 kGy of radiation, which effectively eliminates Escherichia coli, Listeria, Campylobacter, and other pathogens. It consists of an electron accelerator, material- handling conveyor system, and a computerized information, control, and validation system.

As yet, the Sioux City plant is the only e-beam plant, but the company is building another in Hawaii (for Hawaii Pride) for pasteurization of exotic fruits and a third in Arkansas (for Zero Mountain, Inc., Russellville, Ark.) for pasteurization of poultry. Williams said that SureBeam Corp. envisions the system being built right into food processors’ production lines in the future. The system’s relatively small footprint and quick setup time for different products make it easy to integrate into an existing production line.

Papaya irradiation next
A second SureBeam plant is being built for Hawaii Pride, LLC, in Keaau, near Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. The 18,000-sq-ft building will be used to pasteurize papaya and other exotic fruit in Hawaii for shipment to the U.S. mainland without having to be quarantined to prevent fruit fly infestation.

According to Eric Weinert (phone 808-982-8880), Hawaii Pride’s Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing, the plant will be occupied by June 15, and the first commercial shipment of tree-ripened papaya to the mainland will be made on July 17. The projected production level is 25 million lb/yr. The irradiated papaya will be shipped to markets in Washington, Oregon, California, and Minnesota under the brand name Hawaiian Classic. The label will bear the radura symbol and a “tree ripened” statement. Other tree-ripened exotic fruits will be shipped in fall as they come into season, including rambutan, lychee, atemoya, longan, and star fruit.

The ripe papaya is picked and hand-packed in 10-lb fruit-fly-free cartons, 13 in x 10 in x 6.5 in, containing 6–12 papaya, each typically 1.24 lb. No fruit flies can get in or out of the box. The cartons are then treated by e-beam to provide a minimum absorbed dose of 250 Gy (meat is typically irradiated to kill E. coli at ten times that dose), then put on a pallet and shipped.

USDA’s quarantine regulations for fruit exported from Hawaii has restricted export of tree-ripened Hawaiian papaya and other tropical exotic fruits to U.S. mainland consumers for more than 50 years, Weinert said. Papaya has had to be picked green and then vapor (steam) heated for 4 hr to bring the internal core temperature up to 117ºF to kill fruit flies. Pasteurization by the e-beam process enables the papaya to ripen on the tree and pass quarantine. The e-beam treatment is environmentally friendly, eliminating the potential for fruit fly infestation without the use of chemical fumigants, heat, or nuclear isotopes.

Irradiation has been approved by FDA since 1986 as a quarantine treatment for papaya grown in Hawaii. In 1995, the Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture began trial shipments of fruit for treatment at irradiators in the mainland U.S. The treatment, at a dose of 250–400 Gy, proved successful for fruit fly DNA sterilization. The fruit, labeled as “treated by irradiation” with the accompanying radura symbol, was sold in Ohio, Indiana, New York, Minnesota, Michigan, Florida, Texas, California, Washington, and Hawaii. More than 100 shipments (approximately 1 million lb) of papaya, rambutan, star fruit, lychee, and atemoya were treated for retail distribution in that test program. When the SureBeam plant begins operation, it will be the first time these fruits will be irradiated in Hawaii and the first time these tree-ripened fruits will be commercially available in the mainland U.S. not as part of a test program.

The ability to ship tree-ripened fruit—pasteurized and packaged to prevent infestation by fruit flies—will eventually revolutionize fruit flow worldwide, according to Weinert. The difference between tree-ripened fruit and fruit that has been vapor heat-treated, he said, is like day and night, and his company plans to deliver that right-off-the-tree taste.

Gamma-irradiated beef expected soon
Another company is preparing to market irradiated beef, but this company will be using gamma-irradiation from cobalt- 60 as the pasteurization method. Colorado Boxed Beef, Auburndale, Fla., is preparing to market case-ready ground beef and frozen hamburger patties irradiated by Food Technology Service, Inc., Mulberry, Fla. The first irradiation company in North America dedicated specifically to the food industry, FTS has been irradiating poultry since 1996.

Colorado Boxed Beef will introduce its New Generation brand irradiated case-ready ground beef and frozen patties, as well as frozen chicken, by August 2000, according to Pete Ellis (phone 863-425-0039), CEO and President of FTS. The company expects to have product in the market with major retail customers by the beginning of August, initially in the eastern U.S.

The product will be sold in family packs of 8 quarter-pound patties. The package will bear the radura symbol and the statement, “This product has been treated by irradiation to significantly reduce the risk of harmful bacteria that could cause serious illness or death. New Generation ground beef has been processed for additional safety and freshness.”

The gamma irradiation equipment used at FTS was designed and installed by MDS Nordion, Kanata, Ontario, Canada. MDS Nordion also designed the first commercial gamma irradiator manufactured specifically to irradiate meat and poultry, the Centurion™. It can irradiate pallets one layer at a time in a temperature-controlled environment and can handle everything from turkeys to cases of frozen hamburger patties. It provides uniform dose control and has a production capacity of more than 25,000 lb/hr.

Developed specifically for processing fresh and frozen meat and poultry products, the system features a temperature-controlled irradiation chamber to ensure that products are maintained in the refrigerated or frozen state before, during, and after treatment. It can handle individual cases or pallets. The latter are automatically depalletized in layers immediately before irradiation takes place, then automatically repalletized into the original stacks. This optimizes product thickness within the radiation field, ensuring the best possible dose uniformity ratio. The system is fully automated and bar-coded. It can handle 50–200 million/lb/yr.

The conveying mechanism follows a continuous helical path through four levels, each consisting of two straight and two semicircular sections for a total of eight passes by the source rack. This ensures that all products are symmetrically exposed to the radiation field. It also makes it possible to adjust the position of the carriers to accommodate different product box heights.

Process for preparing puffed cereal articles. U.S. patent 6,068,868, filed 2/10/1999, issued 5/30/2000 to R.A. Capodieci, assigned to Mars, Inc. Describes processes for the preparation of puffed cereal cakes, in particular puffed rice cakes. The processes comprise molding puffed or unpuffed cereal grains under pressure with the application of ultrasound, which assists bonding of the cereal grains to form a solid cake, reduces fouling of the mold, and increases processing speed. This permits the formation of puffed cereal cakes with edible inclusions of temperature-sensitive foodstuffs, as well as formation of puffed cereal cakes with shaped or profiled top and/or bottom surfaces.

Preparation of microwaveable bread products. U.S. patent 6,068,863, filed 11/20/1977, issued issued 5/30/2000 to P. Dupart et al., assigned to Nestec S.A. Describes a method for preparing microwavable bread products by treating a starch material in water with a carbohydrase to liquefy and gelatinize the starch material and combining it with water, a starch material, a vegetable oil, and lecithin to obtain an emulsion. The emulsion is then heated to gelatinize starch material and to stabilize the emulsion, which is then dried to a powder. The powder is combined with wheat flour, sugar, a raising agent, and water to obtain a dough. The dough can be stored at –40 to +10ºC or baked. The baked product also may be stored at these temperatures. The microwaved products have physical and organoleptic qualities similar to those of traditional bread products heated in a conventional oven.

Preparing foodstuffs based on fish flesh, and foodstuffs obtained thereby. U.S. patent 6,066,354, filed 1/16/1998, issued 5/23/2000 to P. Lesellier et al., assigned to Neptune, S.A. Describes a method of preparing foodstuffs based on the flesh of fish and/or shellfish. The fish flesh is mechanically mixed or kneaded to a moderate extent, avoiding any significant irreversible spoiling of the fiber structure, in the presence of edible water-retaining compounds, particularly edible hydrocolloids.

Method for treating raw foods. U.S. patent 6,066,351, filed 3/9/1998, issued 5/23/2000 to Y. Tabata et al., assigned to Tabata, Inc. Describes a technique for treating raw foods, such as nuts and seeds, to make them oxidation-resistant. The foods are heated under pressure in a tightly closed vessel so that the texture is slightly softened and the water activity of the polymolecular-layer moisture region is approximately 0.3–0.4. As a result, the water molecules are absorbed on the surfaces of the lipid molecules so that a polymolecular layer of water is formed, and strong bonds between the water and proteins act synergistically to prevent penetration of oxygen into the interior of the food, hindering oxidation.

SureBeam and Texas A&M form research alliance
SureBeam Corp. has formed a 10-year, $10-million strategic alliance with Texas A&M University (TAMU), College Station, Tex., that will create a new research facility with a focus on electron-beam treatment of foods and related products.

SureBeam will add to facilities managed by the Institute of Food Science & Engineering (IFSE), a fully automated research facility with three linear accelerators capable of e-beam treatment as well as high-energy X-ray treatment of foods. The company will also provide a 10-year grant to IFSE to staff the facility with full-time operators and management. Operating hours will be shared between SureBeam researchers and TAMU researchers. At the end of the alliance, all facilities and equipment will be solely owned by TAMU.

“This private–public sectors partnership is a clear example of the opportunities for visionary teamwork while meeting the needs of industry and supporting the goals of higher education,” said Mark McLellan, Professor & Director of IFSE (phone 979-862-2032).

New irradiation proposal 
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is proposing to establish regulations providing for use of irradiation as a phytosanitary treatment for fruits and vegetables imported into the United States. Regulations already provide for such use by  Hawaii, but the proposal would apply the regulations to other countries, with the potential to enhance world trade in tropical fruits and vegetables. The proposal would provide an alternative to the currently approved treatments (various fumigation, cold, and heat treatments, and systems approaches employing techniques such as greenhouse growing) against fruit flies and the mango seed weevil in fruits and vegetables. Deadline for comments is July 25. Details are in the Federal Register of May 26 (65 FR 34113–34125). For more information, contact A. Foudin at USDA/APHIS, 4700 River Rd., Riverdale, MD 20737-1237 (phone 301-734-7710).
Products & Literature
CHOCOLATE TEMPERING MACHINE, the Aasted-Mikroverk Type AMK-PPT, is available in capacities of 350, 500, 750, and 1,000 kg/hr. It has a built-in pump, premodulating zone (p-zone or detempering zone), and 200-kg storage tank. The tank feeds the chocolate from above, and tempered chocolate feeds down and out of the unit. The portable unit produces chocolate with fine-grained crystal structure. For more information, contact American Chocolate Mould Co., Inc., 3194 Lawson Blvd., Oceanside, NY 11572 (phone 516-766-1414, fax 516-766-1485)—or circle 327.

DICER, Model M, produces meat and poultry products with a hand-pulled look. The unit generates fine and medium shreds at high production capacities. It also dices and strip-cuts fresh-chilled, frozen-tempered, or hot-cooked poultry at production temperatures of 28–180ºF. The shreds and dices in sizes ranging from 3/16 in to 4 in can be used in such applications as dicing beef for frozen entrees, dicing and strip-cutting poultry for fajitas and prepared dinners, dicing pork skin for snack foods, and strip-cutting fish for canning. For more information, contact Urschel Laboratories, Inc., P.O. Box 2200, Valparaiso, IN 46384-2200 (phone 219- 464-4811, fax 219-462-3879, —or circle 328.

POWDER DISPERSION SYSTEM, the Ytron®, disperses difficult-to-disperse powders such as carbomers, gums, and stabilizers at concentrations up to 15% by weight. Its integral pump maintains a flow rate of 25 gal/min to provide consistency between batches. The portable system has a low profile to enable easy loading of powders. For more information, contact Quadro Inc., 55 Bleeker St., Millburn, NJ 07041-1414 (phone 973-376-1266, fax 973-376-3363)—or circle 329.

FLUIDIZED BED DRYER, the Jetzone® Model SND, features internal dust separation, eliminating the need for external cyclones. Designed as an integral part of the dryer housing, centrifugal-mechanical dust separators efficiently remove particulates from the recirculated air stream internally. High-velocity air from jet tubes creates an air cushion which lifts and gently tumbles the product. The open spaces between the tubes form a chamber to settle out fines. The return process air containing entrained dust is cleaned centrifugally, reheated, and recirculated without affecting the jets. During fluidization,each particle is surrounded and separated from adjacent particles by the treatment air, so that the entire bed of product is dried quickly and uniformly. The dryer can handle most flaked, pelletized, granulated, extruded, and coarse powdered products. For more information, contact Wolverine Proctor & Schwartz, Inc., 51 E. Main St., Merrimac, MA 01860 (phone 978-346-4541, fax 978-346-4213)—or circle 330.

Senior Editor

About the Author

IFT Fellow
Editor Emeritus of Food Technology
[email protected]
Neil Mermelstein