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Young students study irradiation and food safety for robotics competition

Robotics Master Team

Imagine that someone is making a hamburger for you and accidently sneezes. This person co and andvers his or her sneeze with his or her hands, but then he or she doesn't wash them. This person then starts preparing your hamburger again. If you eat that hamburger, you would probably get sick.

This year in robotics, the Robotic Masters are studying food safety. Each team must pick a food safety topic and come up with an innovative way to keep the food from spoiling or making people sick.

The Robotics Masters decided to investigate how to make beef safer to eat.

We know that cows are usually born on a farm and then they are harvested. A butcher slits the throat, shocks the cow, or shoots it with a bolt pistol. The blood is then drained, the head cut off, the hide is peeled back.

Next the cow is processed. First they skin the cow. They use a six-inch boning knife and a eight-inch butter knife. The carcass is opened and split. The meat is put in a refrigerator. Then it is aged for three to 10 days before they cut the meat into different sections.

The meat is inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture for wholesomeness. The pieces are wrapped up next to dry ice, placed in a foam box and shipped out to stores where you can buy it.

The USDA recommends, "Take beef home immediately and refrigerate it at 40°F; use within 3 to 5 days (1 or 2 days for ground beef and variety meats such as liver, kidneys, tripe, sweetbreads, or tongue) or freeze (0°F). If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely."

Before you prepare the meat for a hamburger, you should wash your hands with soap. You most cook the meat thoroughly. If you do not, you can get escherichia coli, salmonella, staphylococcus auresu or listeria monocytogenes.

When carrying food to a picnic site or a potluck, keep it cool (40º F) to minimize bacterial growth.

We believe that we can keep beef safer by using irradiation. According to Charlotee P. Brennand, PhD. Extension Food Safety Specialist from Idaho State University, "irradiation at the levels normally used in food processing, destroys most, but not necessarily every single microorganism present; it does not sterilize the food."

When food is irradiated, it is passed through a irradiated field. The food itself never touches a radioactive substance.

This process does change the chemicals in foods. These substances called, "radio-lytic products" may sound mysterious but they are not. Brennand said, "They have been scrutinized by scientists in making safety assessment of irradiation foods. Any kind of treatment causes chemicals changes in food. Scientists find the changes in food created by irradiation minor to those created by cooking."

The United States has been using this process since January 1992 in strawberries and dried spices. In 1993, poultry irradiation began commercially.

Some people worry that there is too much radiation in the foods when they go through this process. People don't really need to be worried. The food is small and not much irradiation is needed. They do not use a lot of irradiation.

Scott R. Smith, PhD, CEC, CCE Director of Foodservice Management Programming Associate Professor at Johnson and Wales University, Denver Campus answered our question about this. He siad, "I do think irradiating food is safe and will probably be something we see more of in the future with produce, this is just my opinion."

He also said that for more facts, this is a good website