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Irradiated Food: An Overview
What Is Food Irradiation?
What Is it Used for?
- Preservation—Irradiation extends the shelf life of a food by destroying or inactivating organisms in the food that may cause spoilage and decomposition.
- Sterilization—Because of the sterilization process, these foods can be given to people with severely-impaired immune systems. In addition, both NASA and the military use irradiated food as a means of preventing foodborne illness.
- Reduce sprouting, ripening, and damage from bugs—Irradiation is sometimes used in place of chemicals to prevent damage to food. This process is particularly useful for products like potatoes, tropical and citrus fruits, grains, spices, and seasonings.
- Reduce foodborne illness—Irradiation destroys organisms that may cause illness.
What Does the Process Involve?
- Gamma rays—a radioactive element is used to irradiate the food; it can be used with thick foods
- Electron beams—a stream of high-energy electrons are shot through an electron gun; it is used to treat foods that are not thick
- X-ray irradiation—electrons are sent through a metal plate to create a x-ray on the other side of the plate; it can be used with thick foods
Does the Process Change Food?
How Can You Tell?
A Final Word
- Raw meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products should be as fresh as possible at the time of purchase. Buy products with the longest shelf life.
- Place raw meat, poultry, and fish away from any cooked foods or fresh produce in the grocery cart.
- Store refrigerated foods below 40°F.
- Wash hands before, during, and after food preparation.
- Store all leftovers within two hours by placing them in tightly sealed, shallow containers.
- Eat leftovers within 3-4 days for safety.
American Dietetic Association http://www.eatright.org
US Food and Drug Administration http://www.fda.gov
Dietitians of Canada http://www.dietitians.ca
Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca
The good, the bad, the reheated: Cooking and handling leftovers. FoodSafety.gov website. Available at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/holiday%5Fleftovers.html. Published November 26, 2012. Accessed September 12, 2013.
Irradiation of food. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/irradiation%5Ffood/ . Updated November 19, 2009. Accessed September 12, 2013.
Loaharanu P. Irradiated foods. American Council on Science and Health website. Available at: http://acsh.org/2003/05/irradiated-foods-2/. Updated March 1996. Accessed September 12, 2013.
Refrigerator thermometers: Cold facts about food safety. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm253954.htm. Updated June 17, 2013. Accessed September 12, 2013.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 09/2013
- Update Date: 09/12/2013