What is food irradiation?
Irradiation exposes food to a high dose of ionizing radiation, which is intended to kill bacteria such as E. coli or Salmonella. It also extends shelf life. However, studies have shown it depletes the nutritional content of food, and leaves behind chemical byproducts that have been linked to tumor growth and genetic damage.
How do irradiators work?
Irradiation facilities use gamma rays, x-rays, or electron beams to expose food to ionizing radiation. This process is supposed to kill bacteria, extend shelf life, and kill pests like fruit flies. Many foods, like ground beef, are irradiated through their packaging.
Which irradiated foods are available in grocery stores?
While the FDA has approved irradiation for many types of food, a much smaller number of irradiated foods are actually commercially available. Some companies are selling irradiated types of:
- Ground beef (a small amount of irradiated ground beef is offered by mail order companies like Omaha Beef and some grocery chains)
- Longan fruit
- Dragon fruit
Certified organic food cannot be irradiated. In grocery stores, irradiated foods should be labeled with a symbol called the “radura” and the words “treated with irradiation.” The label isn’t required if the irradiated food is an ingredient in a processed food or on food sold in restaurants, schools or other institutions.
Are there any alternatives to irradiation?
Irradiating food is a Band-Aid for the much larger problem of poor sanitation in slaughterhouses and processing plants, which causes foodborne illness. Rather than put our food through this harmful process, we must work to stop bacteria creation at the source and better regulate the sanitary conditions of farms and processing plants.