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Still, Americans get more irradiated foods than they realize. About a third of commercial spices -- the kind added to processed foods -- are irradiated, says Eustice, who's also a consultant to the Food Irradiation Processing Alliance.
About 30 million pounds of imported produce, mostly fruits such as guavas and mangos, get a low-dose zap -- not enough to kill germs but to kill any foreign insects along for the ride.
As for those seeds used to grow recall-prone raw sprouts, Eustice says irradiation hasn't caught on for them either, despite government research backing it. Some growers instead try washing seeds in a mild bleach solution.
The newest irradiated product is pet treats, about 40 million pounds and counting, Eustice says. It's to combat the problem of salmonella-tainted dog chews.
Irradiation isn't an excuse for dirty produce, Osterholm says. It's far better to prevent contamination on the farm or in the processing plant than to try to get rid of it later. But it's impossible to prevent all animal-borne bacteria in open fields.
There's no reason to fear irradiation but "there's no silver bullet here," cautions food-safety expert Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Irradiation doesn't kill viruses that also sometimes taint food, and it adds to the food's price. She says consumers' biggest desire: Make cleaner food in the first place.
Nor is irradiation the only high-tech option. Scientists also are trying high-pressure treatment to literally squeeze away germs. It's been used for fresh guacamole and raw oysters. Earlier this year, beef giant Cargill Inc. announced it was using the technology for a longer-lasting hamburger patty.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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