Benefit or Risk?
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?
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
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 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
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.
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
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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