FDA Urged to Require Labels for Irradiated Spinach, Lettuce

FDA's recent announcement that it will allow food processors to irradiate some spinach and iceberg lettuce "may not be the futuristic cure-all the agency is looking for" because irradiation happens at the end of production, Center for Science in the Public Interest Director Caroline Smith DeWaal said in an Aug. 21 statement. "While it may be safe and effective in treating some pathogens, it is not -- and should not be mistaken for -- a silver bullet," DeWaal added.

DeWaal's statement referred to CSPI's 2006 petition to FDA, in which the center urged the agency to adopt these foodborne pathogen control measures starting at the farm:

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 third 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," DeWaal added. "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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