Tuesday, February 21, 2012
IS IRRADIATED FOOD DANGEROUS?
No, irradiation does not have anything to do with "radiation" or nuclear contamination of food (that is, radionuclides like Iodine-131 (I-131), Cesium-134 (Cs-134) and Cesium-137 (Cs-137) in food). Irradiation, or "ionizing radiation," is a process that briefly bombards food with high-frequency energy. The purpose is to damage the DNA of insects, bacteria or parasites in or on the food.
Let's take irradiation of produce as an example, since it is coming into wider use. If you wash that fruit or vegetable, you may only get rid of 90 to 95 percent of any bacteria on it. If you irradiate it, you are likely to inactivate or kill some 95 to 99 percent.
At medium-dose levels irradiation therefore extends the shelf life of that fruit or vegetable by preventing sprouting and delaying ripening (which is important in our factory food system). You can also argue, that it makes food safer to eat in terms of not giving you food poisoning. This could be particularly important for super-vulnerable people such as those in nursing homes.
So does the process of irradiation do something else to our food that could damage our health over the longer term? Those who support it (which includes the USFDA, USDA, WHO, FAO, and many other key U.S. and international organizations) will tell you that you shouldn't worry: if correctly done, food irradiation is no more risky than canning or pasteurization. But those opposed to it, will tell you that some research has shown that animals who consistently ate irradiated food ended up with some pretty horrible health problems.
So where does the truth lie? I guess one day, we'll find out. In the meantime, your tastebuds may make the decision for you. To people who are sensitive to taste, the texture and flavor of an irradiated item - such as lettuce - is simply, well, yucky. And, if you are worried, and in reasonably good health, why not avoid it?
To your good health,