Thursday, June 9, 2011


In spite of enormous progress achieved in the field of food technology there are still some gray areas where clarity is some what vague. One such area is pasteurization, meaning of which is understood differently by different agencies involved in food safety. Of course originally it was used almost exclusively by the dairy which used the thermal death time of common pathogenic bacteria to process fluid milk before marketing under refrigerated conditions. While pasteurization confers limited shelf life, even at low temperatures to fluid products, sterilization is the chosen method using higher temperatures to achieve longer life for food products at ambient temperatures. Recent controversy, regarding the claim by the meat industry that it is pasteurizing its products and therefore must be allowed to declare the same for boosting the confidence of the consumer regarding the safety of these products, must be resolved based on scientific interpretation of the term pasteurization.

"Technologies have emerged that allow for the pasteurization of certain meat and poultry products, and the term 'pasteurized' best describes these products to consumers," said NAMP executive director Phil Kimball, in a recent association news update. NAMP cites a U.S. National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) definition of pasteurization: "Any process, treatment, or combination thereof, which is applied to food to reduce the most resistant microorganism(s) of public health significance to a level that is not likely to present a public health risk under normal conditions of distribution and storage." The petition asks that FSIS approve immediately the use of the term "pasteurized" on labels for certain categories of products, and to issue a communication clarifying its policy: "FSIS is legally required to accept the use of such terminology unless it can reasonably assert that the use of such a claim on a given label is either false or misleading ... Clearly that is not the case for products that are fully cooked or that have otherwise been processed in a manner that has effectively eliminated potential public health risks from pathogenic organisms, particularly when firms have validated this outcome."

Science is an evolving area where new discoveries are made at rapid pace and clinging to old concepts and practices will make the industry stagnant. After all the aim of pasteurization is to destroy pathogens and if this can be achieved by any technology that ensures product integrity and quality there should not be any objection. It is unfortunate that use of irradiation process, one of the most effective methods in destroying pathogens, is not adopted by the industry, probably fearing consumer backlash and loss of business, May be it is time that governments world over make it mandatory for highly perishable foods like fresh produce like salad vegetables and raw animal products to be irradiated in the interest of consumer safety.

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