Food Irradiation


Irradiation would not be necessary if food production and processing facilities were cleaner. Meat and poultry processors won’t strive for safe or clean products if they know the products are destined for irradiation.

FACT: Microorganisms are a natural part of the ecosystem. Microbiological safety must be achieved; it does not occur automatically, even in a visually clean environment.

Food irradiation is not a substitute for good manufacturing practices. Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) inspects all meat and poultry products, including those that are irradiated. Establishments that use irradiation must meet the same sanitation and food safety standards required for all meat and poultry plants. Only federally inspected establishments and State-inspected establishments that meet FSIS regulations are able to irradiate meat and poultry products.

Since bacteria are nearly everywhere, measures must be taken to control them. These include chemical dips, rinses or sprays, treatment with energy, i.e. food irradiation, or treatment with heat (pasteurization) or cooking.

Proper cooking destroys Salmonella, E. coli, and other pathogens; however the potential for cross-contamination is increased when contaminated food enters the kitchen. Irradiation helps to prevent contaminated food from entering the kitchen. Chemical or energy treatments destroy the microbes before they are brought home or to the restaurant.

Irradiation of tropical fruit and spices eliminates the need for chemical fumigation and is thus far more consumer friendly.

Irradiation is not the "silver bullet," but is another layer of protection for the consumer. The food industry has made a huge investment in food safety technology and intervention strategies. Irradiation is considered another tool to make the world’s safest food supply even safer. Irradiation offers the greatest opportunity for food safety and optimum product quality.

MYTH: Irradiation will mask low quality and contamination from filth. It is an excuse for the sale of contaminated food.

FACT: Critics made the same comments about milk pasteurization 80 years ago. Sanitation on dairy farms and dairy plants in the United States is far, far better today than at any time in history.

Irradiation doesn’t substitute for good manufacturing practices, and will not replace inspection or sanitation procedures already in place. Intervention strategies such as steam pasteurization, organic rinses, sprays and others have significantly reduced the incidence of bacterial contamination in beef.

USDA has standards that must be met. Irradiation can not hide foreign matter or be used as an excuse for sale of contaminated food. Meat and poultry facilities must have an approved safe handling plan where they are inspected. Routine end product testing is done to be sure it meets microbiological safety standards.

Irradiation takes place after the meat or poultry has already met stringent USDA requirements, therefore it is not possible to bring an inferior or illegal product into compliance with irradiation processing.

Furthermore, there is an incentive for processors to produce the highest quality (lowest microbiological count) product because a lower dose treatment will be used. This reduces the cost of treatment and assures a higher quality product. Irradiation is just another tool to eliminate pathogens.

MYTH: Irradiation destroys the nutritional content of food. Irradiated foods taste "different."

FACT: All food preservation processes affect nutritional content. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that nutritional losses are insignificant.

Scientific studies have shown that food irradiation does not significantly change the nutrient content, flavor, or texture of food. While there is some loss of vitamins during the process of irradiation, this loss is comparable to that of other processing technologies, such as cooking, canning, micro-waving and freezing.

There is substantially more vitamin content in irradiated fruit than non-irradiated fruit because fruit can be harvested ripe, irradiated and shipped. Non-irradiated fruit must be picked green and then shipped well before it is mature.

Opponents claim high nutrient losses because they refer to studies that expose food to high doses not permitted in the United States or they cite older studies that failed to accurately measure nutritional value.

Numerous taste tastes comparing irradiated and non-irradiated foods have shown that the organoleptic qualities of irradiated foods remain constant. In fact, the taste of irradiated fruits and vegetables is often superior to non-irradiated because it retains freshness longer and can be harvested when the vitamin content is optimum.

MYTH: Irradiated foods will glow or become radioactive.

FACT: The amount of energy used in food irradiation is not strong enough to cause food to become radioactive. In fact, food passes on a conveyor system into an area with the radiant energy source, and never comes into direct contact with the energy source.

MYTH: Control of the irradiation process is not adequate.

Fact: International standards established by an international panel of experts are adopted by all countries.

MYTH: Irradiation is not safe, and the scientific community opposes its use.

FACT: All respected national and international health organizations support irradiation. Groups such as the American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control, American Dietetic Association, and the World Health Organization, endorse the safety of irradiated foods.

Irradiated food has been fed to multiple generations of laboratory animals and to human volunteers with no ill effects. When used to destroy microorganisms, irradiation always improves food safety.

MYTH: The public will not know what foods are irradiated and what are not.

FACT: Labeling of irradiated foods is required, except in restaurant foods and when irradiated spices and dried vegetables are used as flavorings in mixed dishes. The required identification symbol (Radura) and the words "irradiated for food safety" must be clearly displayed on packaging.

The required identification symbol (Radura) and the words "irradiated for food safety" must be clearly displayed on packaging.

MYTH: There have been no "long term" studies on the safety of irradiated foods.

FACT: The process of irradiation has been more thoroughly studied than any other food preservation method. There have been more than 500 scientific papers published on the safety and effectiveness of irradiation during the past 50 years. Our astronauts have consumed irradiated food since 1972.

MYTH: Irradiation will make foods radioactive.

FACT: Irradiation does not change the radioactivity of food and does not leave any residues. Irradiation by E-Beam (electrons) and X-rays use ordinary electricity. No radioactive material is involved in electron beam or X-ray irradiation.

MYTH: Irradiation facilities will add significant amounts of radioactive waste to the environment.

FACT: Companies that produce cobalt 60 in the western hemisphere, estimate that all the cobalt 60 produced in North America could be stored in a space the size of an office desk. Cobalt used in food irradiation facilities could be "recycled" from that used to sterilize medical equipment. Cobalt 60 is produced from non-radioactive Cobalt 59. No "nuclear waste" is involved.

MYTH: Opponents claim that irradiation produces unique compounds and specifically cite benzene and formaldehyde as hazardous by-products of the irradiation process.

FACT: Chemicals are formed during irradiation, however they are similar to or less than changes that occur when food is cooked, baked, boiled or fried.

Benzene and formaldehyde may be formed in some products; however the level is many times less than found in commonly eaten foods. It is not the presence of a compound that is hazardous, but the quantity. For example, a boiled egg contains a 100 times more benzene than irradiated beef, and no one has questioned the safety of boiled eggs. Scientists conclude that these levels are of no toxicological significance. Numerous animal and human testing indicate no harmful effects, even when one hundred percent of the diet is irradiated.

MYTH: Opponents say irradiated food may cause cancer in children.

FACT: A study conducted in India, over 40 years ago, in which five malnourished children were fed freshly irradiated wheat is the basis for this claim. Those who completed the study deny this association and no study with people or experimental animals has shown increased incidents of cancer.

Myth: Activist groups who oppose food irradiation reflect public views and are protecting the public interest.

FACT: Activist groups have their own agendas, and they differ in their reliance on science-based information. These groups often have difficulty separating the scientifically proven facts from their opinions and agendas. All activist groups, however rely on membership for fundraising. Many have demonstrated a tendency to identify and exaggerate "risks" and solicit funds in order to "protect the public interest", thus maintaining the financial solvency of the organization.

MYTH: Consumers do not want and will not accept irradiated foods.

FACT: Marketing studies clearly demonstrate that many consumers prefer irradiated food and will select it over non-irradiated when given the opportunity. Numerous university studies show that support for irradiated foods can reach as high as 85-90% when accurate information is provided. Irradiated food is readily available in the marketplace. Estimates are theat 15 to 18 million pounds of irradiated ground beef is consumed annually. Consumers can buy irradiated ground beef from Schwan's (home delivery), Omaha Steaks (retail and home delivery) and Wegman's Markets at retail. Irradiated produce is available nationwide.

MYTH: Organic food is healthier. We should buy only "organic or "naturally raised" food, it’s safer.

FACT: Organic chickens are three times more likely than traditionally-bred birds to be contaminated with a bacterium that causes food-poisoning. The Danish Veterinary Laboratory in Aarhus recently found that each of 22 organic broiler flocks they investigated were infected with Campylobacter. Only one-third of the 79 conventional chicken flocks studied were infected.










Food Irradiation Questions and Answers
Food Irradiation Update

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