Wednesday, April 6, 2011


(photo by Micael Elins for TIME).
A lot of people around the world seem to be nervous about radiation in their food. Radiation detectors are the latest hot item. They are not just being bought in Japan. There is also an active market in the U.S. - and, elsewhere. I read an article in the Business section of the New York Times today (my favorite daily read) that was talking about high-end restaurants in Manhattan, New York, using geiger counters to check the fish they buy- and every other item that enters the restaurant (I wonder if they advertises "radiation-free food?).

Frankly, I think people are exaggerating the risks. Yes, as I predicted, both radioactive iodine and cesium have been found in higher than normal levels in fish caught between the Fukushima power plant site and Tokyo. And yes, these unhealthy substances have also turned up in fairly high levels in some leafy greens, and in milk. This is just as I predicted. And yes, I bet we'll soon get reports about radiation-contamination of root vegetables in Japan (as the rains drive the radiation down into the soil), and then, of eggs and of meat.

But let's look at this in context. You have to regularly eat these food items for your health to be affected (although pregnant women and children have to be extra careful). One meal or a few meals are not going to hurt you. And if you are nervous, there are ways of detecting the presence of such radioisotopes, although it may cost you over a thousand dollars to buy a reliable radiation detector. Besides, governments all over the world are busily testing for radiation in foods imported from Japan, so maybe you can just leave it to them and save your money.

Let's compare this to some of the bacteria contaminating our food supply these days. OK - take a look at my earlier post about food contaminants in California. One meal with a hefty dose of Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella, or Listeria monocytogenes can be enough to make you seriously ill - and, can even be deadly. Yes certainly, in countries food such as the U.S. and Canada (and many others) testing for such bacteria is done by both the company and government to make sure that they won't turn up in your lunch or dinner. But believe me, it's not that simple. They'll only catch some of them (see the book for details on this).

So, what I am saying, is " Don't stress out about radiation in your food." Life - and food - is full of risks, and all said and done, radiation may not be the worst of them.


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