ORLANDO, Fla. (FNS) -- While one supermarket chain is reportedly quietly entering the irradiated meat business, others are choosing to wait until issues of supply and consumer acceptance are cleared up.
A Southeastern retailer will soon begin shipping irradiated poultry from a Florida plant, according to Al Kober, meat and seafood director at Clemens Markets, Kulpsville, Pa. The chain will market the chicken as a value-added line and charge about 10 cents more than for regular packs, Kober said at the Food Marketing Institute's Meat Marketing Conference here.
However, while most other retailers, including Clemens, may be quietly supporting irradiation, they are not ready to enter the controversial market.
"The radura is still a skull and crossbones. We need to turn it into the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," Kober said. Both meat packers and retailers should educate consumers about the food-safety benefits of irradiation, he said. "People just don't know about it."
In addition to waiting for consumers to learn more about irradiation, retailers are also waiting for larger supplies of irradiated poultry. The process has been used only in small tests to date. Irradiated beef, meanwhile, is not expected to be on the market in any form for one or two years, Kober said.
Meantime, consumer acceptance appears to be growing, according to two new surveys presented at the conference. In one survey, 38% of shoppers said they would buy irradiated meat for their children. The survey, conducted by phone in 1997, was supported by the FMI, the American Meat Institute, the National Restaurant Association and the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
Still, about 33% of the people surveyed said they believe the process is a health hazard, compared with 30% in 1996, according to the FMI Trends report. The Washington-based FMI also found that many shoppers have not decided whether irradiated foods are "hazardous."
"Those are the ones to swing the vote in favor or against irradiated foods," said Sara Lilygren, manager of legislative and public affairs at the Arlington, Va.-based American Meat Institute, another speaker at the Meat Marketing Conference.
A consumer focus group conducted by the International Food Information Council found that consumers may be willing to pay more for irradiated.
Some food groups believe different labeling would garner better consumer acceptance. In the IFIC focus groups, shoppers said "cold pasteurization" was the best label alternative.
However, consumer groups and others say to leave the label alone. "Don't smooth it over and cover it up, just call it what it is," Kober said. Consumers prefer labels explaining irradiation's benefits, such as "Irradiated for your safety" and "Irradiated to eliminate harmful bacteria," instead of just "Irradiated," according to the IFIC survey.
In addition, at a recent meeting on the issue with both consumer and industry groups, most groups agreed that "irradiated" should stay on the label. They also raised these concerns about irradiated foods: consumers should understand that irradiation should not replace proper food handling, workers in irradiation plants must be adequately protected, strong government food- safety-inspection programs should be maintained and the environmental effects of irradiation should be examined.
Supermarkets are the least-trusted source of information on irradiated foods, followed by the news media, food manufacturers and the federal government. The most-trusted sources of information include medical and health organizations, universities and consumer advocacy groups.