Extractors shore up processes to avoid irradiation

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food irradiation China Us

Finding other ways to guarantee safety and quality of extract
beside irradiation is giving ingredient suppliers a new angle of
differentiation, catering to customers who are unconvinced that the
sterilisation technique is safe.

The irradiation process exposes foods to ionizing radiation that kills insects, moulds, and up to 99 per cent of pathogens. Although upheld by many as a safe process, the regulatory story on irradiation is inconsistent across the globe. In the US, it has been an accepted manufacturing practice since 1963 to control mould and insect infestation in wheat and to inhibit the growth of sprouts on potatoes. In Europe, however, the only foods that may be irradiated and sold freely across the EU are dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings. These must be irradiated in an approved EU facility, labelled 'irradiated' or 'treated with ionising radiation' and accompanied by full and correct documentation relating to the irradiation treatment. Because of this inconsistency, herbal extractors who want to market their wares on an international basis are seeking other ways to guarantee quality and safety. Chinese supplier Fenchem, for instance, has said that its newly-approved Quality Control System, which has been in place for the past year, removes the need to irradiate its herbal extracts and seasoning. It says that it operates GMP-grade production to guarantee quality and safety instead of irradiation, since the system involves strict standard operating procedures. In communicating this assurance, Fenchem is aiming for a competitive edge over other Chinese suppliers on this basis. A spokesperson told NutraIngredients.com: "Fenchem is the leading company in China to adopt this Quality Control System and make non-irradiation claim. About other Chinese suppliers, it remains to be known." US supplier BI Nutraceuticals set up operations in China in late 2004. It uses steam sterilization for herbals to by-pass the need for irradiation – a process employed by some European firms but less common in the US. Blue California also announced in 2006 that it had changed the ingredient purification process at its China manufacturing facility from gamma-rays to ozone. Since the only by-product of the sterilization process is oxygen, it is claimed to be a safe, efficient and environmentally friendly. Cecilia McCollum, VP sales and marketing at Blue California, said that there is no evidence that radiation purification poses a health risk, but consumers have a bad perception of it as a potential contaminant. IFT's position on irradiation has been in line with McCollum's. In 2004 it called irradiation a proven, beneficial method of improving the safety of the food supply, and said that it poses no human health threat. But US-based campaign group Food and Water Watch argues that consumers should be wary on the grounds that the technique depletes vitamins and creates new chemicals in foods that affect taste and smell. Despite EU scepticism, from time to time irradiated supplements do show up on the European market. In January 2006 a supplement product made by Ferrosan was withdrawn from the UK market after being found to contain a white tea extract irradiated at an unapproved plant in China. "Unless irradiation takes place at an approved plant we don't know what process it has done through,"​ said a spokesperson for the Food Standards Agency. Likewise in 2005 the Irish food safety authorities removed five number of supplement products from sale after they were found to contain irradiated ingredients.

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