Electric Technologies Keep Food Fresh Longer

November 18, 1996

Palo Alto, Calif. -- November 18, 1996 --A new technology that uses electric energy to keep food fresh longer is the focus of studies by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). The goal of EPRI research is to protect the health of consumers with electrotechnologies that eliminate harmful bacteria from food during processing and packaging.

Current studies involve a high energy electron beam (e-beam) process, also known as electronic pasteurization or irradiation, which eliminates micro-organisms from the food with pulses of high energy that disrupt DNA and cell division. This results in:
-extended shelf-life of foods
-reduced need for preservatives
-increased safety of foods by destroying parasites or bacteria
-delayed ripening of fruits and vegetables
-inhibited sprouting of vegetables

One aspect of EPRI e-beam research examines the taste and texture of meat products treated with two different methods of electronic pasteurization. A three-year study co-managed by EPRI and the American Meat Institute Foundation (AMIF) has been initiated at Sandia National Laboratories/Department of Energy and Iowa State University.

"While the microbial effect of treatment by flat-line e-beam and repetitive high-energy pulsating power is the same, we are looking for a process that will satisfy consumer demand for food safety in a meat product that fully retains its taste and texture," said the director of the study, Dr. Janet Williams of the American Meat Institute Foundation.

Partnering with EPRI in another aspect of the electronic irradiation project is MidAmerican Energy Company of Des Moines, Iowa. MidAmerican Energy serves one of the largest meat producing areas of the country and supports cutting-edge research that "benefits both commercial customers and the public," said Rod Boyle, Manager of Energy Efficiency for the utility.

A key objective of this part of the study is to provide food processors and investors with an opportunity to test the technology under pilot-scale conditions. Marketable products can be processed by electronic irradiation in this USDA-registered facility at the rate of 500 pounds of meat per hour.

EPRI's Clark Gellings, Vice President, Customer Systems explained EPRI1s interest in the research. "We are constantly looking for better ways to deliver healthful products. When we finish this three-year study, we expect to help bring to the commercial market meat products that are safe and tasty."

FDA approval of irradiated beef is still under review, but irradiated poultry, pork, fruits, vegetables, and grains have FDA approval and are now being sold in selected markets throughout the U.S. Initial surveys by the Utilization Center for Agricultural Products at Iowa State University indicate that sales of irradiated and non-irradiated meat products displayed side-by side are equal.

"The greatest problem in accepting technology has to do with fear of a new idea, but in our market tests we found high consumer acceptance of products that clearly displayed the ORadura1 symbol," said Dr. Dennis Olson, of Iowa State University. "When the cost of irradiated poultry was ten percent lower than normal, 68% of the consumers purchased it. When the cost was the same, sales were equal; and when the price was ten percent higher, 35% of the consumers purchased it."

Ammi Amarnath, EPRI1s Manager, Process Industries, summed up the benefits for the consumers and the food retailer. "Electronic pasteurization holds great promise for extending the shelf life of foods, and ultimately for protecting the health of consumers. Also, our involvement with new electro-technologies enables our member utilities to develop strong partnerships with their forward-looking customers."

EPRI, established in 1973 and headquartered in Palo Alto, California, manages science and technology R&D for the electricity industry. More than 700 utilities are members of the Institute which has an annual budget of some $500 million.

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Electric Power Research Institute

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