A low dose, low penetration electron beam (E-beam) irradiation penetrating 15 millimetres below the surface of a carcass can effectively reduce pathogens, foundAgricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists at the Roman L Hruska Meat Animal Research Centre in the US.
Pathogens are most prevalent on the surface of a carcass, but the risk of sub-surface contamination is high in ground beef because it is mixed so thoroughly.
Penetrating meat with E-beams instead of current methods of washing the surface of carcasses could therefore be more effective in reducing pathogens.
The ARS scientists found a low dose could effectively penetrate the meat without affecting the odour or flavour when it was used to make stir fry or ground beef. High doses penetrated further, killing more bacteria, but the taste and smell was impaired.
Work on E-beam follows other extensive research by the same centre on preventing pathogen contamination within the beef industry.
The highly publicised E. coli outbreak in 1993 increased national awareness of foodborne pathogens, prompting the industry and government to develop new ways of combatting them.
E. coli harms humans by destroying kidney cells and damaging other cells in the body. Around to E. coli strain 0157:H7 was responsible for 73,000 illnesses and 60 deaths in the 1993 outbreak in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The US beef industry has spent more than $750m over the last decade to improve the safety of beef products.
Cattle can host E. coli without harm and ARS research shows that pathogens tend to gather on cowhides, which causes problems if the meat is contaminated during hide removal. ARS researchers also discovered that killing pathogens in hides before removal is a very effective way of reducing the risk of carcass contamination.
The adoption of chemical washing processes are thought to have cut E. Coli cases in ground beef by more than 40 per cent, but scientists now believe E-beam could be more cost effective and efficient.
Irradiation exposes food to a low level of ionizing radiation to kill bacteria, molds, yeasts, parasites, and other microorganisms that can lead to food spoilage and illness if untreated.
Over the last 25 years, studies have shown that eating irradiated foods poses no increased health risks for consumers. The ARS studies have enabled federal regulatory agencies to establish standards to ensure safety and quality of irradiated products like fruit, vegetables, juice, meat, and meat substitutes.