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What is Food Irradiation?
Food irradiation is, most simply, a means of food preservation to extend
product shelf life. It is a process of exposing food, either pre-packaged or in
bulk, to very high-energy, invisible light waves (radiation). Irradiation can be
an effective way to treat many problems in our food supply, such as insects in
grain, sprouting of potatoes, rapid ripening of fruits, and bacterial
Gamma irradiation may be compared to turning on a light, illuminating a room,
and turning it off again. Gamma rays pass into foods, affect the food or target
organism, and leave the food. How the rays affect the food depends on the food,
and the organisms in the food. But you are probably more familiar with common
medical uses of radiation: medical and dental x-rays, detection and treatment of
diseases, sterilizing medical equipment and devices and pharmaceutical products,
and producing sterilized food for special hospital diets. It’s also been used to
increase the brilliance of precious stones.
How does food irradiation work?
Short-wave radiant energy is absorbed by food and causes a variety of
chemical and physical reactions, such as stopping sprouting or killing insects.
These reactions target cellular components, not nuclear changes in the atoms
that make up food. The amount of energy the food absorbs is controlled so the
changes have desirable food preservation effects while maintaining the safety
and wholesomeness of the food. The food itself does not become radioactive. Even
though food has been irradiated to extend its shelf life, you still must
refrigerate perishable foods.
What are the benefits?
The potential benefits of food irradiation are impressive, including
- postharvest losses, which means less food waste
- chemical residues in foods by replacing fumigants and other pesticides
- the risks of food borne illness from bacteria
- the risk of trichinosis in pork
Although some radiation treatments were first approved in 1963 to control
insects in wheat and flour, the last decade has seen an increase in the
application of this food preservation technology. More than 30 countries have
approved food irradiation technologies to ensure food quality and safety.
Currently, only spices, herbs, and selected fruits and vegetables are
commercially available in irradiated form. To prepare for expanded use of the
technology, Food and Drug Administration has approved label requirements to let
the public know when a food has undergone irradiation. An international symbol
features a stylized plant inside a broken circle. The symbol is to be
accompanied by the statement "treated with radiation" or "treated by
Studies seems to indicate that as knowledge and awareness of the technologies
increase, so might its acceptance among FACSs. The food industry will continue
to respond to the wishes of the public, but also wants the public to know the
benefits of this technology.