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December 1, 2000
WASHINGTON--In the Nov. 29 Federal Register, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to amend its food additive regulations, allowing ultraviolet (UV) irradiation (vs. traditional ionizing gamma irradiation) as an alternative treatment for fresh juice products.
California Day-Fresh Foods Inc. filed a petition in June 1999 proposing this amendment to part 179 of "Irradiation in the Production, Processing and Handling of Food" under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Under the act, a source of radiation is defined as a food additive because it affects the characteristics of food and the "intended technical effect is a change in the microbial load of the food" in order to reduce human pathogens and other microorganisms that may be present in juice products.
FDA evaluated the data included in the petition and found that any photochemical changes that may occur as a result of UV irradiation are not toxicologically significant; in addition, the agency determined that an environmental impact statement is not required.
The company's petition demonstrated that in orange, apple, carrot and garden vegetable juices, use of UV irradiation reduced specific pathogens such as E. coli, listeria and salmonella. The petition also called for a change in processing methods: instead of a steady flow of juice going through a tube under UV irradiation, the juices would flow in "turbulent" conditions to ensure a larger exposure to UV irradiation. The company said it sought this amendment primarily for its all-natural vegetable juices, including an organic carrot juice.
UV irradiation is not ionizing, and therefore is not prohibited under the proposed National Organic Program. "The ionizing irradiation is what was prohibited under organic," said Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA). "Therefore, ultraviolet radiation should be allowed under organic standards." DiMatteo said that neither in the American Organic Standards nor in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) organic proposed rule is UV irradiation mentioned. It is also not listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).
"Efficacy certainly is an issue," said Brian Baker, policy director at OMRI, noting that solid pieces of fruit may prevent UV irradiation from hitting every molecule of juice. "You are going to see a lot of food handlers not relying on a single method to prevent pathogens from contaminating food." He added that UV irradiation can be part of that strategy.
"At this time, we are pursuing other technologies that will be more effective for our products," said Linda Frelka, vice president of quality assurance at Odwalla/Fresh Samantha Juices. Frelka added that the company had tested UV irradition on its products approximately four years ago but found the technology most effective on only clear juices. Instead, the company pasteurizes its all-natural juices."We allow pasteurization already, as well as ultra-pasteurization," DiMatteo said, explaining that technology may be used on organic products so long as there are no toxic side effects for the environment. "Organic is not an anti-technology standard. Instead, we have to find ways that we can meet the food safety standard that is expected of all food-producing businesses." For additional information, visit www.ota.com or www.omri.org.
FDA will take written objections to this amendment through Dec. 29. For more information, visit www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/98fr/112900a.htm.
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