NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Irradiate Our Food?

Irradiate Our Food?

          In 1918, when the first U.S patent for the use of x-rays for the preservation of food was issued, irradiated food was thought to be one of the “foods of the future”.  Nowadays, many common items, such as cotton balls, adhesive bandages, baby bottles and medical supplies are irradiated for safety. But irradiated food in the US? Not so much.

                Food irradiation is a process of treating a food to a specific dosage of ionizing radiation for a predefined length of time. This process slows or halts spoilage due to the growth of pathogens.  By irradiating food, there is sprout inhibition in foods such as potatoes and onions, delay of ripening, increase of juice yield, and improvement of re-hydration quality for dried foods.  By irradiating food, depending on the dose, some or all of the microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, or insects present are killed. Irradiation can replace chemical fumigation of some foods such as spices and herbs.              

                When food is irradiated it is done in a special processing facility where it is exposed to an electron beam or X-ray, generated from electrify or gamma rays produced from cobalt 60.

          Food irradiation is currently permitted by over 50 countries, and the volume of food treated is estimated to exceed 500,000 metric tons annually worldwide; however, the extent of clearances is varying significantly, from a single item (spices) in the European Union to any food in Brazil

            Consumers though have slow to warm up to consuming irradiated foods with a multiple of “urban myths” such as foods that glow and that “irradiated have no vitamins left in them” making the rounds on the Internet. 

          Irradiated food is nutritious and flavorful and safe.  Nutritional changes produced by the irradiation of food are less than or comparable to those produced when food is cooked or frozen. Thiamin is reduced when pork is irradiated and some vitamin A is reduced when eggs are irradiated.  However, the difference is so small that it has no effect on a person’s diet.

          Irradiated food carries a distinctive logo of a two-leafed plant inside a circle; all in a teal color.  In addition, the word “Irradiated” is on the packaging. Some manufacturers may also describe the process as “cold pasteurized” or “electronically pasteurized”. 

          Are we ever going to see shelf after shelf of irradiated foods in our US supermarkets?  If the current consumer trend continues, probably not.  We consumers have more power than we sometimes acknowledge and if we don’t want to purchase super bland purple colored mini-cookies or irradiated food, no amount of marketing is going make us purchase them.  That is exactly what an alert consumer is supposed to be doing!  If however, you find an occasional logo of irradiated food on something in your grocery cart, know you’ve made another food safe choice.


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