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Food Irradiation

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This page describes the importance and benefits of food irradiation.

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Food irradiation is a food safety technology that eliminates pathogens, including disease-causing germs, from foods. Like pasteurization of milk, and pressure cooking of canned foods, treating food with ionizing radiation kills bacteria and parasites that would otherwise cause food-borne diseases, a world-wide concern. For example, the food that NASA astronauts eat is sterilized by irradiation to avoid the possibility of food-borne illness in space.

Food irradiation does not make food radioactive.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), studies clearly show that, when done correctly, food irradiation provides a number of benefits:

However, food irradiation does not eliminate all food dangers and does create some problems:

Three different irradiation technologies exist, each using a different kind of ray: gamma rays (from cobalt-60 sources), electron beams, and x-rays. All three methods use the same concept to accomplish food irradiation. When ionizing radiation strikes bacteria and other microbes, its high energy breaks chemical bonds in molecules that are vital for cell growth and integrity. As a result, the microbes die, or can no longer multiply causing illness or spoilage.

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Who is protecting you

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN)

FDA approves food irradiation techniques for a number of foods including herbs and spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, wheat, flour, pork, poultry, and red meat. FDA requires that irradiated foods bear both a logo and a statement that the food has been irradiated.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

USDA supports FDA in promoting appropriate uses of food irradiation. USDA also sets, defines and regulates the use and meaning of "organic" on food labels (irradiated food does not meet the definition of “organic”).

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What you can do to protect yourself

The safety of irradiated food has been well researched and documented to kill harmful bacteria and control food spoilage. Food irradiation does not make food radioactive. Be aware of the limits and negative effects of irradiation: it does not eliminate dangerous toxins that are already there; it masks the aging of fruits and vegetables, it kills bacteria that produce smells that warn us food is spoiling, and it disqualifies food from being labeled "organic."

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Food Irradiation
June 27, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
You can learn more about food irradiation on this web page. The page also describes the radioactive sources used in food irradiation.
Food Irradiation - a better way to kill microbes associated with food borne illness exit EPA
June 27, 2012. International Atomic Energy Agency
You can read more about food irradiation on this page.
Food Irradiation: Questions and Answers
June 27, 2012. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
You can read answers to many questions about food irradiation on this page.
FoodSafety.gov – Your Gateway to Federal Food Safety Information
June 27, 2012. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
On this page, you can read about food safety and food irradiation. You also can link to federal and state food irradiation websites.

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