Consumers Warming Up to Irradiation

April 16th, 2002

AMES, Iowa — Iowans are warming up to the idea of irradiating food. According to recent studies conducted by Iowa State University (ISU) food scientists, Iowans are part of the growing nationwide consumer acceptance of irradiation.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved irradiation as a safe and effective way to decrease and eliminate harmful bacteria in food products. Irradiation exposes food products to ionizing energy for a specified length of time.

Food scientists at Iowa State are testing consumer attitudes toward the flavor and acceptance of irradiated apple cider. Another method commonly used to kill harmful bacteria is pasteurization, but it involves short heat treatments that can change cider's flavor and color.

Apple cider taste tests were conducted with 600 consumers at four locations in central Iowa last September and October. Cheryll Reitmeier, associate professor of food science and human nutrition, and Fransiska Yulianti, graduate assistant, found the participants rated irradiated cider as acceptable or more acceptable than pasteurized cider.

At two of the test sites, participants had no preference between irradiated or pasteurized apple cider. At the remaining two locations, the taste testers preferred irradiated cider. Yulianti says a number of participants had a difficult time choosing between samples because they liked both.

The taste test results show consumers are becoming more open to irradiation as a food safety measure, Reitmeier says. "Most consumer studies show that once a person sees the difference in quality, they think irradiation is okay," she says.

The findings parallel the results of a survey conducted last November by Porter Novelli, a New York-based research firm. Among 1,008 adults asked, 52 percent said the government should require irradiation to ensure a safe food supply. That was a big change from their survey two years earlier when only 11 percent of those surveyed said they would buy irradiated foods if available.

Poonamjot Deol, another graduate assistant involved in the cider taste tests, said "people may have changed their perception about irradiation from being a technology that is harmful to their health to one that can actually protect them from harmful substances."

The study shows consumers are interested in irradiation, says Bonita Glatz, an ISU university professor in food science and human nutrition. "Many participants did not know what irradiation was but were willing to become more educated on the subject," she says.

The taste test is one of the ways ISU researchers are studying consumer preferences in their search for methods that can substitute for pasteurization to reduce harmful bacteria in juices.

Contacts: 

Bonita Glatz, Food Science and Human Nutrition, (515) 294-3970

Cheryll Reitmeier, Food Science and Human Nutrition, (515) 294-4325

Fransiska Yulianti, Food Science Graduate Researcher, (515) 294-3011

Jacqui Becker, Communications Research Assistant, (515) 572-7901