Health authorities in many countries, such as the United States and the European Union, have imposed stringent food safety standards on trade and have imposed international regulatory actions (Montreal Protocol Clean Air Act) to phase out the fumigant Methyl Bromide as the traditional protocol for treating fruits and vegetables for insect infestation prior to export by 2012. This provides an immediate opportunity for electronic cold-pasteurization, a form of irradiation, as a means for developing countries to meet the phytosanitary requirements for export markets and to enhance their export revenues. These actions have significantly impacted the import/export of agri-products and have driven the agricultural industry to actively search for alternative solutions to halt deteriorating import/export volumes of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Alternative treatment methods should have significant potential to increase international trade in agricultural commodities particularly in developing countries, such as Mexico. Other fumigant gases such as ETO (Ethylene Oxide) present the same problems encountered with Methyl Bromide and hot and cold water processing as alternatives (i.e. hydrothermic treatment) have proven to be expensive and ineffective.
Following the ban on ethylene oxide in the EU and Japan, irradiation proved to be an effective alternate decontamination process for spices and dried seasonings. Of the choices of irradiation systems currently available, E-Beam accelerators that irradiate food at doses below 1 kGy, provide the most effective, versatile, and efficient means of treating fresh fruits and vegetables. E-beam treatment or ‘Electronic Disinfestation’ offers significant advantages over the hydrothermic process currently used on mangoes and other fruits by allowing the fruit to be picked closer to ripeness, extending the shelf-life, and eliminating virtually all pests.
On August 22, 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of irradiation to kill food-poisoning germs/pathogens in fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce following spinach and lettuce recalls related to widespread E.coli outbreaks; such as the Dole Spinach E.coli outbreak in September 2006, in which all bagged spinach was recalled nationwide. FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 205 E.coli illnesses associated with the spinach outbreak, including 31 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome in 26 states, 104 hospitalizations, and 4 deaths. According to the FDA, the Salmonella outbreak caused by tainted Tomatoes in the summer 2008 sickened over 1200 people in 43 states, with at least 229 hospitalized and at least 2 associated deaths. The more recent pathogen outbreak of Salmonella infected peanut butter sickened over 650 people in 44 states, with 23% hospitalized and 9 confirmed deaths.