Irradiated beef offers healthy alternative for consumers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 29, 2002

Shoppers at Jim's SuperValu enjoyed free grilled hamburgers Friday, only they weren't just any burgers.

The hamburgers had been irradiated to kill off any bacteria that may cause food poisoning.

Representatives of the Minnesota Beef Council were giving away samples of Huisken's Meats frozen beef patties to inform consumers about irradiated beef.

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"Each year in America 76 million people become ill from food-born illnesses," said Ronald Eustice, executive director of the council.

Although most food-born illnesses come from contaminated fruits and vegetables, the beef council wanted to make beef even safer.

"We as a beef industry were interested in making ground beef one of the safest foods on your dinner table," Eustice said.

To irradiate beef, electronic rays are transmitted at 99.9 percent the speed of light. The beam destroys the DNA in bacteria so that it cannot reproduce. The process takes from one to three seconds.

Some consumers have wondered if the process makes the meat taste different or takes away nutrients. Those worries are unfounded, Eustice said.

"It does not change the flavor, texture, taste or nutritional content," he said.

Michelle Torno, director of nutrition and consumer information, said ground beef contains many nutrients that are beneficial to a person's health.

"We say (beef) has got 'zip.' Zinc, iron and protein," Torno said.

Irradiated ground beef takes out the risk of food poisoning for those with weak immune systems, especially children and the elderly, she said

"Hospitals use irradiated products because they can't take the chance with patients," Torno said.

After shopping, Mary Riesnour tried the hamburgers and said she might buy them because she is concerned with health issues.

"I have to read about it," Riesnour said. "I don't know much about it."

She said they tasted better than she thought they would.

Mark Novak also tried one.

"They're good," he said. "I like them."

Irradiated frozen ground beef patties are available at many grocery stores in Minnesota, including SuperValu, Cashwise and Hy-Vee. Some Dairy Queens in central Minnesota have decided to use them and companies like Schwans and Omaha Steaks sell them. The irradiated ground beef is sold in 35 states and in 2,500 stores nationwide.

Jim Baldus, owner of Jim's SuperValu has been selling the frozen beef patties for two years and said they are selling well. A box of eight quarter pounders sells for about $5.29.

He decided to sell them to give consumers another choice and because he wants to offer his customers quality products.

"(Irradiated beef) supports what we believe in," Baldus said.

Baldus said the burgers are good to take when pinicking because there is less risk of food poisoning.

Currently only frozen ground beef is irradiated, but Eustice said irradiated fresh ground beef will be sold in some stores within two months. This will be another major step in this technology because fresh ground beef is bought most often by consumers, he said.

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at