As a constant on the industry radar, food safety remained a major issue facing retailers and manufacturers alike in 2000, and no topic stirred more debate this past year than the irradiation of red meat products.
he items in their coolers.
"We're taking a wait-and-see attitude," said Barry Scher, spokesman for Giant Food, Landover, Md.
"We'll watch what the consumers want," echoed Mickey Clerc, spokesman for Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla. "We'll try to determine if our customers want it first."
What Clerc and other retailers were waiting for was whether the most important voice of all -- the American consumer -- would agree with the government's decision.
Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., was one of the first companies to test market irradiated beef patties toward the end of March, setting the stage for others, large and small, to join.
Yet some industry members, such as Laura's Lean Beef, a Lexington, Ky., manufacturer, continued to see the process as an unnatural "chemical thing," said Winona Rose, the company's vice president of consumer affairs.
As the year lengthened, however, so did the list of retailers willing to offer irradiated products on their shelves, though always with an un-ionized alternative.
In May, Minneapolis, Minn., retailer Supervalu announced it would sell irradiated meat, and assured its customers that such a decision would be accompanied by an intensive, multifaceted education program.
Supervalu also made a powerful statement toward properly advancing irradiated meat sales throughout the country by vowing not to use the items as a type of competitive marketing tool, and said it was only seeking to provide its shoppers with a safer product and greater selection.
Next on the horizon? Watch for processed meats like hot dogs and deli meats to sport an irradiation label, say industry trend watchers.