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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?

why allow food products to be irradiated
The use of irradiation can:

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?
significant dates in food irradiation history
1895 – First paper published with the idea of irradiating food

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 astronauts

Significant Dates in Food Irradiation History
significant dates in food irradiation history6
1983 – Approved for herbs, spices, and seasonings

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 foods

Significant Dates in Food Irradiation History

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.

Technically Speaking…

dose and effect of radiation
The dose is the amount of radiation used to expose food.

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
dose and effect of radiation11
“Low” doses, < 1 kGy

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
dose and effects of radiation
“Medium” doses, (1-10 kGy)

Control Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, Yersinia, Listeria and E. coli in meat, poultry, and fish

Delay mold growth on strawberries and other fruits

Dose and Effects of Radiation
dose and effects of radiation13
“High” doses, (> than 10 kGy)

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
minimal changes associated with food irradiation
Not all fresh produce is suitable for irradiation.

Some treated foods may taste slightly different.

Nutritional value of food is virtually unchanged.

Some chemical changes occur.

Minimal Changes Associated with Food Irradiation
the extent of use of food irradiation
The Extent of Use of 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

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

the international food irradiation symbol the radura
The International Food Irradiation Symbol – The Radura

Treated with Radiation

Treated by Irradiation

organizations that endorse food irradiation
Organizations that Endorse Food Irradiation

World Health Organization

American Medical Association

Institute of Food Technologists

American Council on Science and Health

Food and Agriculture Organization

American Dietetic Association

acceptance of irradiated foods consumer attitudes are changing
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
Consumer Surveys Indicate:As consumers become more educated about food irradiation, they are more likely to purchase the foods.
fight bac tips
Fight BAC! Tips
  • Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
  • Separate: Don’t allow cross contamination
  • Cook: Cook to proper temperatures
  • Chill: Refrigerate promptly
in conclusion

In Conclusion:

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.

food irradiation a safe measure
Food Irradiation: A Safe Measure

Consumer brochure

available on the Web at these locations:



food irradiation a global food safety tool
Food Irradiation: A Global Food Safety Tool

Consumer brochure

available at the following

Web locations:

  • IFIC:
  • ICGFI: