BLOCK THAT BURGER! The American meat industry is fed up with consumers who don't know what's good for them, so it's going after captive consumers: children in school-lunch programs. Buffeted by repeated outbreaks of E. coli infections traced back to unsanitary slaughterhouses, the industry's come up with a panacea: simply irradiate all processed meat with a high-powered scanning electron beam before it goes into hermetically sealed packages. Trouble is, "irradiation" sounds a lot like "radiation," and companies (like Dairy Queen) that have tried selling irradiated patties have not prospered. So meat marketers have turned their attention elsewhere: to the USDA's national school lunch program, which buys ground beef by the hundreds of thousands of (subsidized) tons for shipment to school cafeterias. When parents' groups found out that their tots were to be fed irradiated beef, the patties hit the fan, but the USDA says its hands are tied: the 2002 Farm Bill says the Department has to accept food treated by "approved food-safety technologies," so the kids will darn well eat the zapped beef whether parents like it or not. When the USDA dared suggest asking for comments from the public, the industry quickly set the Department straight. USDA's job, said the American Commodity Distribution Association, is "to educate program recipients and administrators about the benefits of irradiation and other new food-safety technologies," and offered to help USDA mount a pilot project to funnel zapped ground beef onto school lunch trays. THE FEW, THE PROUD Talk about your limited editions: Olympia craft Fish Brewing Company is looking for a few hardy and sophisticated souls capable of appreciating a beer as refined, and damn near as expensive, as fine wine with their 2002 vintage Old Woody English Strong Ale. Brewed to a hefty 10 percent alcohol and aged for six months in oak wine casks, Old Woody will run you $10 a (750-ml) bottle. You can find it at places like Wallingford's Bottleworks, PCC markets, and Whole Foods, but don't delay; only 130 cases were made. Hell, buy two; according to its makers, the stuff will just get better as time goes by. CLAMMED UP Bad news for folks who love to hunt the shy bivalve Siliqua patula when they visit Washington's Pacific beaches; a red tide last October has left the state's razor clam populations laced with toxic-to-deadly doses of domoic acid, with clams at Kalaloch averaging six times the marginally acceptable dose of the poison, which can cause cramps, vomiting, dizziness, and other disagreeable symptoms, including death. Clam beaches have been closed till further notice: almost certainly right through the prime low-tide days this spring. BITE THIS Finally, a national food mag with a little spunk. Call it the Lucky of food writing. And if the premiere issue is any indication, Bite's as fresh as its student staff. That's right . . . students; it's published by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University near Chicago. Look for it on newsstands after October 2003. Food and/or beverage news? E-mail Hot Dish at firstname.lastname@example.org.