Food Poisoning:

Irradiated Food

Food irradiation is a relatively new technology, similar in effect to pasteurization and pressure cooking, that uses ionizing radiation to kill harmful bacteria and parasites in food which could cause illness. While not all foods can be irradiated and not all pathogens can be eliminated, on the whole, irradiation is very promising in the fight against foodborne illness. The effects have been extensively studied, and when properly used:

  • Irradiation entirely eradicates or significantly diminishes the presence of harmful germs
  • The nutritional value of the food is not significantly altered
  • There are no traces of harmful radiation
  • No other harmful substances result

The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) supports food irradiation as both safe and effective. Along with increasing the length of possible storage time (particularly for dry foods) food irradiation can eliminate many causes of foodborne illness, such as:

  • E. coli O157:H7
  • Salmonella
  • Campylobacter
  • Toxoplasma organisms
  • Listeria
  • Shigella

Beyond killing bacteria, the effect upon the food is minimal. Just as pasteurization changes the taste of milk, so some foods may taste slightly different. Living cells in the food, such as seeds or shellfish, are killed along with the bacteria. Vitamin and amino acid content are not altered. After irradiation, the food products must be handled with the same care as non-irradiated products, because they can still become contaminated if they are exposed to bacteria. The WHO (World Health Organization), the CDC, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) all endorse the safety of irradiated food. Irradiated foods must be marked as such, by word or symbol, for consumers.