Firm qualifies to provide irradiated meat for schools

Apr 15, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – A Pennsylvania meat company recently became the first firm to meet US Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards for supplying irradiated ground beef for the federal school lunch program, the USDA confirmed this week.

Qualipaq Meats of Swoyersville, Pa., has met specifications that the USDA released in May 2003, according to Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in Washington, DC.

However, the government has not yet contracted to buy any irradiated beef from Qualipaq, because no school districts have ordered the product for their lunch programs, Mattingly told CIDRAP News. "We've just been offering it [irradiated ground beef] since January and have had no requests to purchase it at this time," she said. The AMS acquires the food the USDA gives to schools.

Another USDA official said that although the agency has had no orders for irradiated ground beef for the lunch program, California state officials have expressed interest in the product. Susan Acker of the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service told CIDRAP News that states order food commodities from the USDA for distribution to school districts and that California officials have considered ordering irradiated beef.

The 2002 Farm Bill ordered the USDA to permit the use of any federally approved food safety technology on food the agency buys for the National School Lunch Program. In response, the USDA revised its ground beef specifications to include standards for irradiated ground beef. School districts have the option to order irradiated or nonirradiated ground beef. Parent groups in many districts have opposed the serving of irradiated hamburger in schools because of concerns about safety.

Qualipaq Meats officials could not be reached to provide more details for this report. An online report by Meatingplace.com, a meat industry news service, said ground beef produced at Qualipaq Meats will be irradiated at CFC Logistics of Milford Township, Pa.

The Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation to kill pathogens in raw meat and poultry products in 1997 after a lengthy review of studies on the effects of irradiation on food. The USDA approved irradiation of meat and poultry in 1999.

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