Food irradiation lab shut down due to operation costs

Paige Godden

On Feb. 28, 2003, Iowa State was the first university in the nation to commission a food irradiation lab. It opened as part of a $16 million project which began in 1996. The lab itself cost a total of $5 million, four of which came from the federal government and another portion from state or university funds. The lab was costing about $150,000 a year for the operation and maintenance, said Dennis Olson, professor of animal science.

“The radiation of interest in food preservation is ionizing radiation, also known as irradiation. These shorter wavelengths are capable of damaging microorganisms such as those that contaminate food or cause food spoilage and deterioration,” according to the ISU Extension food safety website.

The website listed “that capability and the fact that much of our food supply is lost due to spoilage and insects each year, are why scientists have been experimenting with irradiation as a method of food preservation since 1950. They have found irradiation to be a controlled and very predictable process.”

Olson said in the last few years the university lost a federal grant and wasn’t able to secure another one, then lost another one during the interim.

He said several classes used the facility for part of their laboratory sessions, but the irradiation facility in Sioux City, the Sadex Corporation, had offered to provide the meat lab with any irradiated product they might need for any classes or for research, but Olson said distance is always a problem.

“Part of what used to be the radiation lab is being used, but the main area where the irradiation took place is a very specialized facility,” Olson said.

Concrete walls, which are ten feet thick, surround the area; this makes it a very concealed room, Olson said.

That area isn’t being used for anything at this time. He said personnel are using the office areas. Olson said there are currently still irradiation labs in Sioux City, a facility at Texas A&M and some commercial products from Mulberry, Fla.