Food irradiation is used as a way to reduce harmful bacteria on fresh food and increase its shelf life. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have endorsed irradiation as a safe and viable way to kill microbes on food. Irradiated food must be labeled with a symbol called a radura. Organic food cannot be irradiated.
Produce can be irradiated to prolong its life and kill harmful pathogens and microbes living on the surface of the fruit or vegetables. Potatoes can be irradiated to keep them from sprouting, and strawberries are irradiated to keep them fresh longer. Irradiated fruits and vegetables are also less likely to attract insects like fruit flies.
Some food processors in Hawaii are experimenting with irradiating fruit they send to the mainland because it keeps longer and kills any pests that could infest the locations where the produce is sold.
Pork, beef, chicken and some fish are irradiated to kill the salmonella or E. coli bacteria on them. Both the USDA and FDA must approve irradiating the meat before processors can go forward. Pork was first irradiated to kill trichinosis. Heavy bacterial contamination of meat requires stronger irradiation, and according to the CDC, the flavor may change slightly, but there is little difference in the nutritional value of the meat. Shellfish like oysters or clams cannot be irradiated because it kills them, making them unfit to eat.
Wheat can be irradiated to prolong the shelf life and reduce any outbreaks of insect infestation. Flour beetles, weevils and certain types of moths can hatch from flour, and irradiating wheat products kills the eggs found on wheat.
Herbs and Spices
All herbs and spices can be irradiated to sanitize them. If the herbs or spices are used in a mixture, the package does not have to show a label if the amount of the irradiated product is small.
All food that is irradiated must carry the symbol of the radura. This symbol looks similar to the EPA’s symbol. The radura is green, has four broken lines on the top half, and two leaves in the bottom half with a circle above the leaves, making it appear as if were a flower. The bottom has an unbroken semicircle. The symbol is placed inside a box with a clear background. The broken lines that form the top border are the symbol for radiation.
References and ResourcesCenter for Disease Control: Food Irradiation
North Dakota State University: Bugs in Your Cupboard
Organic Consumers Association: Untitled