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Food irradiation is the process of exposing food to controlled levels of ionizing radiation to kill harmful bacteria, pests, or parasites, or to preserve its freshness. The process of food irradiation is often called cold pasteurization, because it kills harmful bacteria without heat.
What Is Food Irradiation?
The use of irradiation can: controlled levels of ionizing radiation to kill harmful bacteria, pests,
Decrease the loss of food due to insect infestation, foodborne pathogens, and spoilage.
Decrease consumer concern over foodborne illness.
Help governments respond to the growing international trade in food products.Why Allow Food Products to Be Irradiated?
1920 – Discovery that irradiation could be used to preserve food
Early 1950s – “Atoms for Peace” studies performed
1957 – First commercial use to kill insects and insect eggs in spices in Germany
1963 – Approved to eliminate insect infestation for wheat and wheat flour
1964 – Approved to prevent sprouting in potatoes
1970s – NASA uses irradiated food for astronautsSignificant Dates in Food Irradiation History
1985 – Approved to control trichinella spiralis in pork
1986 – Approved to control insects and maturation of fruits and vegetables
1990 – Approved by FDA to control bacteria in poultry (approved by USDA in 1992)
1997 – Approved by FDA to control microorganisms for red meats (approved by USDA in 2000)
2000 – Approved for shell eggs
2002 – Petition pending for irradiation of seafood, sprouts, and ready-to-eat foodsSignificant Dates in Food Irradiation History
Gamma Rays food
X-raysSeveral Energy Sources Can Be Used to Irradiate Food
Ionizing radiation is a type of energy similar to radio and television waves, microwaves, and infrared radiation.The nature of the energy is defined by the wavelength of the energy. As the wavelength gets shorter, the energy of the wave increases.As with all types of radiation, when considering possible health effects, you must consider the dose.
The dose is the amount of radiation used to expose food. television waves, microwaves, and infrared radiation.
The dose is controlled by the intensity of the radiation and the length of time the food is exposed to the source.
The dose permitted for use in food varies according to the type of food and the desired action. Treatment levels have been approved by FDA as follows:Dose and Effect of Radiation
“Low” doses, < 1 kGy television waves, microwaves, and infrared radiation.
Control insects in grains and fruits
Inhibit sprouting in tubers
Delay the ripening of some fruits/vegetables
Reduce the problems of parasites in products of animal origin, (e.g., trichinella spiralis in pork)Dose and Effect of Radiation
“Medium” doses, (1-10 kGy) television waves, microwaves, and infrared radiation.
Control Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, Yersinia, Listeria and E. coli in meat, poultry, and fish
Delay mold growth on strawberries and other fruitsDose and Effects of Radiation
“High” doses, (> than 10 kGy) television waves, microwaves, and infrared radiation.
Kill microorganisms and insects in spices
Commercially sterilize foods, destroying all microorganisms of public health concern (i.e., special diets for people with weakened immune systems)Dose and Effects of Radiation
Not all fresh produce is suitable for irradiation. television waves, microwaves, and infrared radiation.
Some treated foods may taste slightly different.
Nutritional value of food is virtually unchanged.
Some chemical changes occur.Minimal Changes Associated with Food Irradiation
Worldwide, almost 40 countries permit the use of irradiation on over 50 different foods, and an estimated 500,000 tons of food are irradiated annually.
Food and Drug Administration television waves, microwaves, and infrared radiation.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Food Safety and Inspection Service
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Department of Transportation
Regulators of Food Irradiation
Treated with Radiation
Treated by Irradiation
World Health Organization
American Medical Association
Institute of Food Technologists
American Council on Science and Health
Food and Agriculture Organization
American Dietetic Association
While many consumers are unfamiliar with food irradiation, consumer research shows that, as more and more factual information is provided, the public increasingly views irradiation in a more positive light.Acceptance of Irradiated FoodsConsumer Attitudes Are Changing
Consumers are gaining knowledge about the benefits of food irradiation and its potential to reduce the risk of foodborne disease, but the process is not a replacement for proper food handling practices. Irradiation, like other prevention methods, is but one method used to prevent foodborne illness.
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