Consumer acceptance and marketing of irradiated foods
Public concern about food safety has increased. Despite efforts to control food spoilage and improve safety, food microbiological hazards still exist. Meat and poultry account for a large number of foodborne illnesses and deaths; however, the amount of illness related to pathogens in produce now is greater. Educating consumers about the risks involved with improper handling and cooking of raw meat and poultry may help reduce foodborne illness; however, some consumers are unaware of recommended practices or unwilling to improve their food preparation methods. Food eaten raw, such as lettuce or spinach, lack a pathogen-kill step. Food irradiation can enhance safety by reducing or eliminating microorganisms that contaminate food or cause spoilage. Demand for irradiated food products depends on acceptance by consumers. Although public knowledge about irradiation continues to be limited, interest in purchasing safety-enhanced irradiated food is increasing, especially after people receive information about potential benefits and risks. While negative information about irradiation reduces willingness to buy, generally the more consumers know about this technology, the more willing they are to embrace it. Even a minimal presentation of the facts related to food irradiation can lead to a significantly greater support for this technology. A public education program originating in Minnesota demonstrates the positive impact of an educational program coupled with market availability of irradiated food.