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Ready and willing to irradiate spices.

For more than fifteen years now Isotron Plc have been offering the facility for irradiating products to help clean up or keep clean certain materials. They have five centres, four for gamma processing and one for electron beam processing that are used for medical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, plastics and health care applications.

Over about the last four or five decades scientists have examined the possibility of irradiating foodstuffs and, apart from encouraging rancidity in fatty products, that have not found any deleterious effects, although it is thought some flavour changes occur. Unfortunately in the UK the whole business of irradiation has had a considerable amount of bad press, which means that so far the technique has not be available for use commercially on foodstuffs.

Like freezing, this technique can never improve a food material but it can solve some of the 'cleaning' problems. Take spices grown in the tropics or even herbs grown in more temperate parts of the world, both suffer from high levels of contamination. With the aid of gamma irradiation, such levels could be dramatically reduced. Poultry is anothe area where it is apparent the salmonella infection could be reduced with the aid of techniques like irradiation.

Food irradiation was authorised in the UK on January 1st this year and Isotron had applied for a license to treat spices and condiments because such treatment will achieve a more effective reduction of pathogenic micro-organisms than fumigation with ethylene oxide gas, a technique that was used in the past. Their licence was granted less that a month ago. This license is very specific and grants approval only to the company's site at Moray Road, Elgin Industrial Estate, Swindon, Wiltshire and is valid initially for three years. Treatment is restricted to the following: both whole and ground black pepper, both whole and ground white pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, whole and ground cumin, paprika, parsley, basil, sage, oregano, turmeric, ground ginger, chilli powder and a prepared seasoning blend whose principal ingredients are pepper, onion, garlic powder, beef powder and salt. The technique is only authorised for the purpose of reducing or eliminating pathogenic micro-organisms and treatment is limited to the radionuclide Cobalt 60.

Stringent safety measures and standards have to be applied by Isotron to comply with their licence. For instance, the maximum dose is restricted to 10 kiloGray and the minimum dose must be at least half that level to ensure an effective reduction in the load of pathogenic organisms. Methods of test have been standardised and even the packaging materials for the products undergoing treatment have been specified. Products undergoing treatment must be in hessian, woven polypropylene or multi-ply paper sacks, or in multi-ply paper sacks with polyethylene, polyethylene coated paper multi-ply paper sacks, cardboard cartons with polyethylene liners or cardboard kegs.

In spite of the above range of restrictions, Isotron are confident there is a future for irradiation as far as food stuffs are concerned. Already they have a special facility set up for food use, as well as a smaller trials facility. They point out that gamma irradiation should not only help to control food-borne microbial pathogens, such as salmonella and campylobacter, but reduce spoilage and wastage as a result of this technique's ability to extend shelf-life. There is also the effect of reducing losses and wastage due to insect infestation in bulk foods, like grains and pulses, and its ability to control ripening or germination of fruits and vegetables. However, these particular claims can not be proved yet owing the limiting nature of their present license.
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Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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