Irradiation Food Safety Update
Source of Article: http://www.foodnutritionscience.com/index.cfm/do/monsanto.article/articleId/215.cfm
The International Food Information Council (IFIC)
reports that about one-third to one-half of consumers are
aware or somewhat aware of the process of food irradiation. About
two-thirds of those consumers indicate that they would be willing to
purchase foods treated with this process. Additional research studies at leading
universities show that with education, at least 80 to 85 percent of
consumers are willing to purchase irradiated foods. Does this willingness
translate into dollars?
Yes, says Ronald F. Eustice, Executive Director for the Minnesota Beef
Council. Eustice says that irradiated ground beef
and poultry accounts for 18 million pounds of ground beef sales annually –
and that number is holding steady. Specifically, Omaha Steaks and Schwan’s,
who irradiate 100% of their ground beef, have seen some nice increases in
Irradiated produce sales
are on the rise too. Annually, there are about 11 million pounds of
irradiated produce marketed in the United States. Eight million
pounds of that produce comes from Hawaii
in the form of various tropical fruits. Other irradiated produce items,
like mangos, come from India,
with more tropical fruits coming from Thailand. One-third of
commercial spices – 175 million pounds – are irradiated.
Food irradiation is
actually the process of exposing food to an ionizing energy (gamma rays,
x-rays or electron beams) to kill bacteria and extend shelf life without
cooking or changing the food. A low dose of below one to 10kGy is usually
sufficient to rid most foods of harmful bacteria.
The major benefit of
food irradiation is greatly reducing, or even eliminating, the number of
harmful organisms in a product. Other benefits include helping to keep
produce from deteriorating, and helping to reduce the need for chemical
fumigants in tropical produce by eliminating insects.
Certain items, like
tropical fruits arriving from India
or Thailand, must
be irradiated to gain access to the U.S. This prevents foreign
fruit flies from damaging domestic product, and allows consumers to enjoy
items like imported mango, mangosteen and papaya.
Currently, foods that have been irradiated carry the “radura”
symbol at retail.
Food irradiation was
given the stamp of approval in the United States in the early
1960s, and has since been approved for use in fruits, vegetables, meat,
poultry, fish and seafood, oysters, roots and tubers, cereals, legumes,
spices, food grade enzymes and dried vegetable seasonings. Most recently,
the FDA approved the process for spinach and iceberg lettuce – something
that Eustice says is a long overdue step in the
While minor chemical
changes can occur when food is irradiated, Eustice
says scientific evaluations have shown that the changes do not pose health
risks. In fact, he says that most of the compounds created by irradiation
are present naturally in other (non-irradiated) foods at levels many times
greater than the levels generated by irradiation.
Irradiation also has the
support or endorsement of every scientific organization that has taken a
position, he says. And irradiation can be performed in a product’s final
package, fresh or frozen, preventing the possibility of cross-contamination
prior to treatment – and along the supply chain.
The process has become
especially helpful in less-developed countries, where spoilage threatens a
large percentage of the food supply. According to the WHO, food irradiation
can help ensure a safer and more plentiful food supply when established
guidelines and procedures are followed.
“Irradiation will help
do more to alleviate hunger and suffering than any other technology we have
available. It extends shelf life, prevents infestation of pests, and opens
markets for products produced in countries that haven’t been able to export
to the U.S.
in almost two decades,” says Eustice. “There are
more than 30 food irradiation facilities, mostly in Asia and Latin America,
being installed mainly for the purpose of accessing the U.S.
Co-Director of The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy
research group, thinks that food marketers will have a tough sell when it
comes to irradiation because consumers are concerned about treating their
food with this process. Instead, he suggests that better care should be
taken along the supply chain to eliminate the need for expensive
technological fixes in the first place.
irradiation stand to lower the quality, safety, flavor, and nutrition of
our food supply,” Kastel says. But Eustice disagrees. He emphasizes that irradiation must
be employed in addition to proper sanitation and hygiene – and not instead
“I think certain
activist groups have done more than their share to try and intimidate
retailers and restaurants that attempt to serve irradiated foods,” says Eustice. “The safety of our food supply cannot and must
not be held hostage by half-truths and misrepresentation by special
“They really don't want
consumers to be fully empowered to make discerning decisions in the
marketplace,” Kastel counters. “That's why they
want to get rid of the strict labeling requirement.”
Whether or not the
industry moves toward re-labeling the irradiation process (as something
like “cold pasteurization”) remains to be seen. In the meantime, though
irradiation can help promote food safety, it is not a substitute for safe
food handling. Retailers should continue to communicate the standard food
safety guidelines to their consumers, even when selling irradiated