FDA Approves Irradiation for Spinach, Lettuce

Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal

August 21, 2008

FDA's announcement today that it will allow food processors to irradiate some leafy greens (spinach and iceberg lettuce) may not be the futuristic cure-all the agency is looking for. Irradiation is a treatment used at the end of production. While it may be safe and effective in treating some pathogens, it is not—and should not be mistaken for—a silver bullet.

CSPI has urged FDA to adopt a series of preventive measures starting at the farm that could control foodborne pathogens. Our suggestions, outlined in a 2006 petition to FDA, include common-sense food safety control measures:

1. Farmers and processors should be required to keep a written food safety plan specific to the environmental conditions on that particular farm.

2. FDA should develop uniform standards to evaluate those plans, for water quality, worker sanitation, and manure use and management.

3. Written plans should be audited once per season, either by FDA or a 3rd party auditor (whose audits should be reviewed by FDA).

With the approval of irradiation on spinach and lettuce, FDA should also specify that these products should be clearly labeled with the radura symbol and the words "treated with irradiation." This labeling—required for other irradiated products—provides consumers with the information to make choices about the food they purchase.

It is clear that produce safety must become a priority for FDA, starting at the farm. Congress should also act to ensure that the agency has the authority and the resources to fulfill its critical public health mandate.


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