The article, "Food Irradiation Update," by J. Peter Clark (October 2006, p. 73) presents food irradiation in a favorable light, but I would like to provide some corrections and further information.
(1) SureBeam went bankrupt primarily because it incorrectly judged the commercial need for irradiation at the time. (2) The demise of SureBeam did not leave customers without a source of irradiated ground beef—a cobalt-60 facility in Florida and an e-beam facility at Texas A&M University have continually provided commercial irradiation capability without any stoppage, and the arrival of Sadex Corp. facility in Sioux City is a much-needed addition to this country’s capabilities and hopefully will attract others to the market. (3) There are other technical solutions to the issue of irradiating bulk items such as mail than using "thinner bundles."
(4) We have been working with NASA’s Planetary Protection Program for the last two years to validate high energy e-beam for decontamination of sensitive space-craft components. Studies show that e-beam does not destroy or compromise space-craft components at doses that can achieve 5-log reduction of bacterial endospores. Moreover, in studies conducted for the military we have shown that e-beam is a cost-effective solution to prevent mold damage of water-damaged documents. The National Research Council also has an on-going committee exploring the commercial use of e-beam to replace cobalt-60 for commercial applications, including food irradiation. E-beam is a technological and economical alternative to cobalt-60 not only for food irradiation but also for medical applications.
(5) Food irradiation or "electronic pasteurization" is a global solution to combat foodborne illnesses. Countries like China, India, and Saudi Arabia are building large numbers of e-beam facilities, and the European Union has specific language written in its constitution that can facilitate the quick adoption of food irradiation. The National Electron Beam Food Research Center at Texas A&M University has continually supported research by commercial entities in e-beam technology since its inception in 2002.
—Suresh D. Pillai, Director, National Center for Electron Beam Food Research, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-2472 (www.tamu.edu/ebeam)