Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I thought I would do a quick post on irradiation of food. I notice that a lot of blog readers continue to worry about it - and, are confused.

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,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As salt scandal grows, serious doubts about food safety in Poland.

In a prime-time investigative program aired this Sunday, journalists of an independent Polish television station TVN, after conducting a 6-month investigation, presented evidence of industrial salt - obtained as a waste by-product and containing dangerous carcinogens - being sold wholesale as edible salt.

According to information obtained by TVN, three Polish businesses, over a period as long as 10 years, have been purchasing up to 1000 tons per month of industrial salt - labeled as a waste product allowed to be used only for spreading on roads or in chemical industry - from one of the largest chemical plants in Poland - Anwil. After repackaging, this salt was being resold to numerous food processing plants and wholesalers as edible salt.

Independent laboratory tests have confirmed this salt to be harmful if consumed, containing toxic compounds that in a human body can produce carcinogenic dioxins.

As a result, tens of thousands of tons of toxic and carcinogenic unedible salt have been introduced into the food supply in Poland. The investigation has been launched, but the Polish government still has not released any information about which food processing plants have been using the toxic salt and specific products that might have been contaminated as a result. It cannot be ruled out that some of the toxic salt ended up in food products sold for export.