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Irradiation key to reducing foodborne illness

A University of Manitoba professor recommends using irradiation on poultry, which will reduce foodborne illness in Canada by 25 per cent


Winnipeg, Man. – A University of Manitoba food safety and food microbiology professor suggests the widespread adoption of irradiation of poultry could potentially reduce the number of incidents of foodborne illness in Canada by 25 per cent.

Dr. Rick Holley says the association between poultry and campylobacter and salmonella is pretty significant.

Food irradiation is the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation to kill any microorganisms or insects that might be present.

Holley explains that poultry carcasses are contaminated almost uniformly with campylobacter, which can cause short-term, not life-threatening necessarily, illness.

Campylobacteriosis usually only lasts for about three days and a normal healthy individual will recover, he says.

But some people don’t recover. So the morbidity can be pretty substantial and the costs to society can be substantial in terms of addressing issues associated with a crippling bout of campylobacteriosis.

Depending upon the area you’re in, Holley says you might find anywhere from 30 to 60 per cent poultry carcasses are contaminated with salmonella. And salmonella periodically can cause very large outbreaks of foodborne illnesses and some of those can also be life-threatening in certain subsets of the population.

Solution

Holley says the only solution is to “bring in the big guns” and very seriously consider food irradiation.

In fact, he adds, if the industry were to use irradiation, it would reduce the frequency of foodborne illnesses in Canada by 25 per cent immediately.

Holley suggests reducing the base levels of carcass contamination will have a direct effect on reducing the frequency with which we see people getting ill from eating contaminated food products that have not been cooked properly.