Food Irradiation the Answers to Your Questions

Article excerpt

Editor's Note:

The material in this article was taken from: "Food Irradiation: A Safe Measure," FDA publication #00-2329, January 2000, and "Irradiation Back on the Front Burner," Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, March 2000.

Starting on Feb. 22, 2000, meat producers were given the green light to start treating beef, lamb, poultry, pork chops, and other raw animal foods with irradiation.

The sought-after outcome is to destroy any harmful microorganisms that may be present and thus reduce the number of foodborne illnesses.

Members of the American Dietetic Association and other food, nutrition, and health professionals support the new irradiation ruling. They agree that it can be an effective way to help reduce foodborne hazards and ensure that harmful organisms are not in the foods we buy.

In addition, irradiation has been endorsed for years by the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Medical Association. And while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. has only recently approved the irradiation of meat, it has allowed this process to be applied to a variety of other foods for years, including fresh fruits and vegetables and spices. This has not been done without a great deal of evaluation. The FDA has researched this technology over the last 40 years and has found irradiation to be safe, even at levels much higher than are currently applied.

Despite all the research supporting the safety of this technology that can help prevent foodborne illness and death, the process is rarely used because of consumer fears. Following are frequently asked questions and answers to dispel the myths surrounding the notion that your irradiated food will "glow in the dark."

Q. How does irradiation work?

A. During irradiation, foods are exposed briefly to a radiant energy source--such as gamma rays or electron beams. The energy waves pass through the food, breaking molecular bonds in the DNA of bacteria and other harmful organisms. These organisms die or, unable to reproduce, their numbers are held down. Food is left virtually unchanged, but the number of harmful bacteria, parasites, and fungi is reduced and may be eliminated.

Q. How do I know if food has been irradiated?

A. FDA requires that irradiated foods include labeling with the statement "treated by irradiation" and the international symbol for irradiation, the Radura.

Q. Are irradiated foods widely available?

A. Not yet. Some stores have sold irradiated fruits and vegetables since the early 1990s, and many spices sold in the U.S. are irradiated. Also, irradiated poultry is available in various small, independent stores. But many meat processors are currently choosing to monitor the irradiation issue and how the public responds to it before they invest in the technology.

Q. Does irradiated food have diminished nutritional quality?

A. No. There are virtually no nutritional differences between non-irradiated and irradiated foods. Whatever small vitamin losses might occur also occur with canning and other food processing techniques--as well as with eating a food after peak ripeness.

Q. Is irradiated food radioactive?

A. No. Irradiated food is no more radioactive than your luggage is after it goes through a scan at an airport security checkpoint. The low doses of radiation simply pass through the food leaving no radioactive residues behind.

Q. Will irradiated food cost more?

A. Irradiated products sold to date have cost slightly more than their conventional counterparts. …