URI professor cracks legal barriers to egg irradiation
FDA approves petition
KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 21, 2000 -- The Food and Drug Administration has
approved the irradiation of eggs to kill salmonella. The ruling goes into
effect today, July 21.
Dr. Edward Josephson of Warwick, an 84-year-old University of
Rhode Island adjunct professor of food science and nutrition, wrote the
petition that got the egg rolling.
The FDA approval delights Josephson who has long crusaded for the acceptance
of radiation as a way to make food safer for consumers.
It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control that approximately
33-million cases of human illness and 9,000 deaths occur annually from foods
infected with salmonella and other disease causing organisms, although many
cases go unreported.
Pasteurizing eggs with a low dose of radiation kills salmonella
99.9 percent of the time without harming or cooking its contents. Pasteurizing
eggs is analogous to heat pasteurizing but without more than a few degrees
rise in temperature. There is little or no change in nutrition quality,
taste, appearance, texture or odor. To avoid extra handling and breakage,
the process can be applied to the eggs in the carton.
Josephson says while many people associate radiating food with
the atomic bomb, there's no relationship between the two. Eggs do not become
radioactive just as a purse being checked at an airport does not house radioactivity
nor does a person who has been X-rayed.
In fact, radiation is commonly used as a means of sterilization.
Most needles, bandages, syringes, and women's personal hygiene products
are radiated. Eye drops are sterilized by that method as are spices coming
to the U.S. from hot, humid tropics. In 1997, the FDA gave the green light
to the practice of irradiating fresh and frozen meats to destroy dangerous
bacteria, such as deadly E.coli.
To date, 40 countries, including the U.S., have approved the use of
radiation at specific doses to process particular foods.
Poultry such as chickens carry salmonella. Hens get infected with the
salmonella bacteria by either the food they eat or the air they breathe.
The infection settles in the hen's ovaries and as a result the egg gets
infected. The eggshell acts like a case that holds the infection in.
An uncooked or undercooked egg is a potential source for salmonella.
Eating eggs sunny side up or soft-boiled, licking a spoon of cookie batter
or certain kinds of ice cream, drinking egg nog, and eating Caesar salad
dressing comes with a risk.
The elderly, organ transplant recipients, chemotherapy patients, AIDs
victims and other people with compromised immune systems are especially
Josephson became interested in food radiation while working at the
U.S. Army Laboratories at Natick, Mass. By 1961, he headed the food radiation
research and development program for the Department of Defense. He testified
five times before Congress between 1963 and 1987.
After he left the Army, Josephson taught and researched at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology where he co-edited a three-volume textbook on food
The URI researcher and his wife moved to Warwick 14 years ago. That same
year, Dr. Henry A. Dymsza, a former colleague from the Army lab days and
now a professor emeritus at URI asked him to join URI's Food and Nutrition
Josephson credits Dr. Ken Simpson, a retired URI food scientist, URI
professor Chong Lee and former Ph.D. candidate Dr. Patrick Harewood for
their help over the years. The work has also been supported by two grants
from M.D.S. Nordion, a company in Ontario, Canada. The grants were shared
with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell where the eggs were radiated
and the microbiology work completed by Dr. John Mallett.
Slowed by health problems, Josephson plans to retire from URI
in September. A party is being planned. The researcher says it will be a
brunch, noting happily that irradiated eggs will be on the menu.
For Information: Jan Sawyer, 874-2116