Irradiation as a Preservative: Is It Safe
After many long years of research into the safety and feasibility of food irradiation, it is a preservation method whose "time may have come." The method is comparable to traditional food preservation methods such as canning, freezing and fumigation, albeit with some advantages. Food irradiation can be made safe and effective by carefully controlling the radiation dose. Both Canada and the U.S. have established strict regulations for all aspects of food irradiation - from the design of irradiation facilities to the type and source of radiation and the dosage used - to ensure that foods preserved by irradiation remain wholesome and safe to eat. Irradiated foods offered for sale must be labeled according to the Canadian Food and Drug Act, and are allowed only a specified radiation dose.
How is food irradiation done?
The food to be irradiated is exposed to eletromagnetic energy from radioactive cobalt-60. The gamma-rays emitted by cobalt-60 are absorbed by the food, effectively destroying microorganisms, killing insects and hindering sprouting. In practice, a conveyor system moves the food to be irradiated through a chamber containing the radiation source. The amount of ionizing energy absorbed by any particular food depends on its distance from the source and the time of exposure and is carefully controlled so that food remains wholesome, with no changes to its taste, colour or appearance.
Some benefits of food irradiation
Radiation can considerably extend the shelf life of foods by reducing or killing spoilage microorganisms - such as bacteria, molds and fungi. For instance, irradiation destroys microorganisms such as Salmonella and Campylobacter particularly rampant in meat, poultry and seafood. It also kills insects in grains and spices, and hinders the undesirable sprouting of vegetables such as potatoes, onions and garlic lengthening their use for public consumption. But, while irradiation destroys microorganisms, it does not usually destroy bacterial spores (for instance botulinum spores). Therefore, proper food handling guidelines remain mandatory.
One distinct advantage of food irradiation over more traditional methods of food processing is a longer shelf life for fresh foods, allowing wider distribution of high-quality, nondecaying fruits and vegetables. For example, irradiation can prolong the shelf life of strawbernes for up to 15 days. It can also extend the shelf life of various frozen foods. Given the current ban on several health-damaging chemical fumigants, insecticides and fungicides, irradiation is a useful method for facilitating the shipment of food products into Canada. But only certain foods are permitted by Health Canada to be irradiated, namely: potatoes, onions, wheat flour, whole wheat flour, whole or ground spices and seasonings.
Public acceptance lags behind
In many countries the public remains skeptical of food irradiation, often because of a poor understanding of its value in providing a safe food supply, relative to other processing methods. In a similar fashion, when milk pasteurization was first introduced, many consumers vehemently objected thinking that its goodness "would be destroyed by heating." Yet food irradiation is designed to erradicate microbes and food-poisoning organisms that contaminate many foods and endanger those who eat them. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls food irradiation "a sound food processing technology which offers consumers food products with an added margin of safety."
Anti-nuclear activists in the U.S. have caused much upheaval and delayed the opening of a food irradiation plant in Florida, with sensational and adverse press coverage. Many news reports choose to ignore the full weight of scientific evidence in support of food irradiation, impeding rather than advancing progress in food safety.
There remains a large body of expert opinion, including scientific evidence, which maintains that irradiation is harmful because it not only removes the harmful organisms but the beneficial organisms as well, and may in fact destroy some of the nutritional values of the foods thus irradiated. While I maintain the position that the anti-nuclear activists are 100% dead wrong in their “actions”, their “opinion” is 100% “right on” – in my opinion, after carefully considering all the evidence pro and con, my personal opinion is: irradiation, at this stage of development, is not safe, nor is it safe to consume foods which have been irradiated as a preservation method.
In fact, our bodies require many of the micro-organisms which are killed via irradiation just in order to digest and absorb the nutritional values of foods which are irradiated. I recommend that, if your diet consists of any amount of irradiated foods, you research “Greens” products in general and that you seriously consider adding a “Greens” product to your daily diet. I recommend the newest, and only 100% vegetarian, native and natural greens product on the market today -- Bio88+ -- which is found here.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Loring Windblad has studied nutrition and exercise for more than 40 years, is a published author and freelance writer. His latest business endeavor is at