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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

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 susceptible.

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 radiation.

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 Department.

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


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