Texas scientists have devised a way to use a new kind of pasteurization process on raw oysters to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
The technique — electron-beam pasteurization — has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to control the naturally occurring bacterial agent Vibrio vulnificus in shellfish. Raw oysters contaminated with the microbe can be life threatening or even fatal when eaten by someone with liver disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system.
Texas A&M University researchers, reporting in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, said their work showed the technology can also be used to kill norovirus and hepatitis A virus.
“A salient feature of e-beam pasteurization technology is that it uses commercial electricity to generate the ionizing radiation that inactivates the viruses,” said researcher Suresh Pillai, a professor of microbiology and director of the National Center for Electron Beam Research at Texas A&M University. “It is a green technology because no chemicals are involved.”
Currently, electron-beam technology is not being used for commercial oysters sold in the U.S. But Pillai said new food processing technologies are needed to reduce infection risks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six Americans get food poisoning each year. Additionally, virus infections from consumption of raw oysters in the U.S. are estimated to cost around $200 million a year.
"This is the first study that has attempted to quantify the reduction in infection risks of raw oysters contaminated with different levels of virus when pasteurized at FDA-approved doses," Pillai said.
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