Irradiated Food: An Overview
What Is Food Irradiation?
What Is it Used for?
- Preservation—Irradiation extends the shelf life of a food by destroying or inactivating organisms in the food that may cause spoilage and decomposition.
- Sterilization—Because of the sterilization process, these foods can be given to people with severely-impaired immune systems. In addition, both NASA and the military use irradiated food as a means of preventing foodborne illness.
- Reduce sprouting, ripening, and damage from bugs—Irradiation is sometimes used in place of chemicals to prevent damage to food. This process is particularly useful for products like potatoes, tropical and citrus fruits, grains, spices, and seasonings.
- Reduce foodborne illness—Irradiation destroys organisms, like Salmonella.
What Does the Process Involve?
- Gamma rays—a radioactive element (cobalt 60 or cesium 137) is used to irradiate the food; can be used with very thick foods
- Electron beams—a stream of high-energy electrons are shot through an electron gun; used to treat foods that are not very thick
- X-ray irradiation—electrons are sent through a metal plate to create a x-rays on the other side of the plate; can be used with thick foods
Does the Process Change Food?
How Can You Tell?
A Final Word
- Raw meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products should be as fresh as possible at the time of purchase. Buy products with the longest shelf life.
- Place raw meat, poultry, and fish away from any cooked foods or fresh produce in the grocery cart.
- Store refrigerated foods below 40°F.
- Wash hands before, during, and after food preparation.
- Store all leftovers within one hour by placing them in tightly sealed, shallow containers.
- Eat leftovers within 3-4 days for safety.
American Dietetic Association http://www.eatright.org/
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/
Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition http://www.ccfn.ca/
Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index%5Fe.html/
Food irradiation. American Dietetic Association. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/ . Accessed December 15, 2003.
Frequently asked questions about food irradiation. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/foodirradiation.htm . Accessed May 11, 2011.
Loaharanu P. Irradiated foods. American Council on Science and Health website. Available at: http://www.acsh.org/publications/pubID.1562/pub%5Fdetail.asp. Published July 3, 2007. Accessed May 9, 2011.
Handling your food safely. American Dietetic Association website. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/ . Accessed December 15, 2003.
Irradiated foods. American Council on Science and Health website. Available at: http://www.acsh.org/publications/pubID.1562/pub%5Fdetail.asp . Accessed October 14, 2007.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 05/2011 -
- Update Date: 05/11/2011 -