Crystal Seas Oysters uses irradiation to treat their raw oysters in order to have a safer, more consistent product.

Crystal Seas Oysters uses irradiation to treat their raw oysters in order to have a safer, more consistent product.

When you purchase food from a grocery store or restaurant, you shouldn’t have to wonder if it is safe to eat. Fortunately, in the U.S., food safety is a top priority. One new company in Gulfport is helping maintain the safety of the food we eat.

Food Safety Benefits

Gateway America uses a method known as gamma irradiation (or cold pasteurization) to virtually eliminate bacteria, pests, decay bacteria, and pathogens like E. coli, salmonella and listeria from poultry, seafood, red meat, fruits, and vegetables. Irradiation is a clean, safe and environmentally friendly technology that has been approved by the USDA since 1963 and is used in 37 countries. “Basically, it uses small amounts of radiant energy to change the molecular structure of the pathogens and bacteria so they become harmless,” says Frank Benso, president of Gateway America. “The temperature change on the product is less than half a degree. So you don’t get any kind of off flavors or anything of that nature, and in some instances, it actually enhances flavor.” Compared to other methods, irradiation is the safest and most effective way to kill pathogens and pests, Benso says. “This technology really needs to be embraced, and it will be once people understand the benefits,” he says. Jennifer Jenkins, manager at Crystal Seas Oysters in Pass Christian, has been working with Gateway America since May 2013. Crystal Seas sells raw, whole oysters to restaurants. “Using irradiation to treat our raw oysters has allowed us to have a safer, more consistent product,” Jenkins says. “Our industry has so many regulations, and it is very important for us to have a safe product. We have had no problems – we have only had compliments on how great the product turns out.”

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Economic Benefits

So far, Gateway America is the only irradiation facility located in a port city, which is good news for Mississippi’s economy. “Mississippi is becoming a logistics hub for other countries to deliver products through Gulfport,” Benso says. “The USDA mandates that some imported products are to be treated with this type of technology, and it is opening up trade agreements for specific commodities with countries that previously bypassed the U.S. for these types of commodities. Mississippi is leading the way for this new agricultural trade into the U.S.” Local companies like Crystal Seas benefit from irradiation as well. “It has definitely helped us sell a lot more oysters in the summertime,” Jenkins says. “This summer versus last summer, we are probably selling three times the amount of oysters.” Benso says after just over a year in business, Gateway America is experiencing tremendous growth. He is optimistic about the future. “All of these good things happening, and Mississippi is in the spotlight,” he says. “You’re going to see other states looking at Mississippi as a leader in this technology.”

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