Irradiation is the process of treating food products using x-rays, gamma rays, or electron beam in order to eliminate organisms that cause foodborne illnesses, destroy bacteria that cause food spoilage, and delay sprouting and ripening. Since 1963, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have allowed the technology to be used in a number of commercially available foods, including beef and pork, crustaceans, fresh fruits and vegetable, lettuce and spinach, poultry, shell eggs, and spices and seasoning.
The FDA recognizes the importance of technology in improving the safety of foods and extending their shelf life, but this didn’t keep some citizens from being concerned. Despite FDA’s recommendation, there is still a disagreement among health experts whether or not food irradiation is safe. Questions regarding the consequences of its wider application have been raised. In response to the issue, let us take a look at the pros and cons of food irradiation in greater detail.
List of Pros of Food Irradiation
1. Enhances Food Safety.
Irradiation can be used to reduce risks to food borne illnesses caused by microorganism such as Escherichia coli and Salmonella. And unlike regular washing, it can kill pathogens that adhere to both the external and internal tissues of the edible plant. It can be used to sterilize the food of patients with impaired immune system, such as those undergoing chemotherapy and those suffering from AIDS.
2. Extend the Shelf Life of Consumer Foods.
Aside from reducing food pathogens, irradiation can also be used to extending food shelf life by destroying or inactivating organisms that cause spoilage and decomposition.
3. No Chemical Residue.
The scientific community, including the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for disease control and prevention, agree that the technology is safe and does not produce toxic substances, not even “radioactivity” as many would suggest. According to FDA, “Irradiation does not make foods radioactive, compromise nutritional quality, or noticeably change the taste, texture, or appearance of food.”
4. Minor Nutrient Loss.
While many would claim that irradiation can result to significant nutrition loss, studies actually show it preserves nutrients better than other common food preservation techniques such as boiling and freezing.
5. Properly Labeled.
Foods that have been irradiated come with a Radura label, allowing consumers to make a choice to buy or avoid irradiated food products.
List of Cons of Food Irradiation
1. Does Not Guarantee Total Food Safety.
Irradiation does not eliminate toxins, and when applied below the recommended dose, it may not effectively reduce virus.
2. Negative Effect on Animals.
While irradiation may appear to have no a significant effect on human health, studies have shown it pose numerous health risks to animals that have consumed irradiated foods. These include chromosomal abnormalities, rare cancers, and even premature death.
3. Costly Environmental Contamination.
If constructing and maintaining and irradiation facility is expensive enough, ensuring that the surrounding community is free from contamination can get extra costly. Case in point, on the 6th of June 1988 in Decatur, Georgia, radioactive water escaped from a radiation sterilizer facility. About $47 million of taxpayers’ money was wasted for the cleanup.
Do you think irradiating food is good idea or a bad one? You be the judge.