Food Safety and Irradiation

My dad was always a thoughtful sort. After I had struck out on my own in life, the first year that I couldn’t make it home for Christmas was shaping up to be pretty dreary, so he sent me a cooler loaded with frozen choice cuts of beef from a company called Omaha Steaks. He knew I love to eat good beef. But he also knew that a filet mignon would in no way fit in my budget. I couldn’t — and still can’t — imagine a better gift. There might be better steaks out there, but I can’t say I’ve found one.

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I’ve been thinking about Omaha Steaks of late because my wife’s sister kindly sent us a cooler from the company for Christmas filled with various types of meat, kind of a carnivore’s sampler. I was disappointed it wasn’t full of filet mignons — in case you’re wondering, there’s absolutely zero chance she will ever read this column — but on the plus side, my son said it was the best hot dog he’d ever had. That’s a little bit like being the best team of the past century in the history of the Chicago Cubs, but it was better than a fruitcake.

At any rate, I again thought of Omaha Steaks this week when I read about a research project by a couple of scientists at Michigan State University. The scientists have developed an X-ray machine that can kill bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7 — the strain found on spinach in the fall of 2006 that killed three people. While it’s being tested at the university, the technology is being commercialized by a company called Rayfresh Foods, according to a university press release, which added that Rayfresh has recently won its first contract to build an X-ray machine to treat beef for Omaha Steaks.

Reality Of Irradiation

I’ve written extensively about food safety, and most times when I ask growers about irradiation, they dismiss it out of hand. Consumers will never accept it, they say. Really, how can you be so sure? Or they will say that the technology’s just not there yet. Well, if it’s good enough for Omaha Steaks, it’s good enough for me. And these researchers, in case you’re wondering, say their technology doesn’t affect the quality of even the most delicate vegetables.

It’s certainly worth a try. We must do all we can to guarantee the safety of fresh vegetables. If we can’t do that, then any great improvements in the quality of the produce, or any brilliant developments in the manner in which it’s marketed, are meaningless. Selling the sizzle is fine, but you’ve got to start with the steak.