The decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow irradiation of certain fresh produce will "change the landscape of food safety in the nation forever," according to a leading irradiation expert with Texas AgriLife Research.

"This is a benchmark and courageous decision," said Dr. Suresh Pillai, director of the National Center for Electron Beam Research, located at Texas A&M University.

The FDA announced Aug. 21 that spinach and iceberg lettuce may be irradiated to control pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella. The federal agency is considering whether to expand permission to irradiate other fresh fruits and vegetables.

Pillai believes that the decision to allow irradiation on the two leafy green vegetables will lead to increased use of the technology by countries that import into the U.S. as well.

Pound for pound, the amount of food consumed in the U.S. rarely causes sicknesses such as was experienced this year by those who ate certain salsas.

But even if it were only a handful, that is too many since such illnesses could be avoided, according to experts at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

"Each year 15 - 20 people die and countless others are hospitalized in the U.S. as a result of consuming fresh produce contaminated with food-borne pathogens such as E. coli," said Dr. Andy Vestal, AgriLife Extension risk management leader. "Everyone involved with produce – from the field to the plate – must use the best agricultural and food preparation practices."

Vestal and colleagues at AgriLife Extension have developed an online training about the use of irradiation on fruits and vegetables to reduce food-borne illness.

"Electron beam irradiation, or eBeam, is an emerging technology that offers the potential to significantly enhance the level of safety of complex food items such as fruits and vegetables," Vestal said.

People may access the online training at Texas AgriLife Extension.

The training consists of four modules for food producers, handlers, preparers and others interested in preventing food-borne illness, Vestal said, and explains the use of eBeam as a tool to reduce to the problem.

The modules, in English and Spanish, are:

- Introduction: Microbiological safety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

- Control of microbial growth and food-borne disease pathogens in fresh fruits and vegetables.

- Current strategies used to eliminate or reduce pathogenic microorganisms from fruits and vegetables.

- Science and application of electron beam irradiation technology.

By downloading the modules, the viewer can see the notes in each of the presentations for more information on each of the slides.

See National Center for Electron Beam research for more information about electron beam technology research.