Raw oysters, a delicacy for foodies and a purported hangover cure (it isn’t) aren’t always the safest thing to eat. Pathogens such as Vibrio vulnificus, norovirus and Hepatitis A sometimes lurk in oyster flesh. These little nasties can cause food poisoning and norovirus specifically has no treatment or vaccine, and can result in serious illness or even be fatal because of the dehydration it causes via diarrhea and vomiting. According to the Centers for Disease Control, norovirus infects some 20 million people yearly.
To combat these pathogens, oysters are usually pasteurized with one of several methods, most involving heating and freezing or high pressure. But pressure and heating are old hat and don’t always kill all of the bacteria and/or viruses present.
To that end, researchers at Texas A&M decided to study what would happen in they zapped oysters with a beam of electrons. Graduate student Chandni Praveen, AgriLife Research scientist Dr. Suresh Pillai and their colleagues found that a beam delivering a dose of just under 5 kilograys reduced hepatitis A infection risk by 91 percent and norovirus by 26 percent. A kilogray is a unit of absorbed radiation energy, and is generally equal to 1,000 joules per kilogram. It only takes about 1 Gray to cause radiation sickness, and doses of 20 to 40 Grays are used in treating cancer.
The FDA already has approved the use of electron beam technology as a pathogen intervention strategy to control Vibrio vulnificus bacterial pathogen in shellfish, but the researchers say it could be used more comprehensively. One big plus is that it doesn’t require anything more than household current — no need for a huge particle accelerator.