Susan - About.com User
It might sound scary, but the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined food irradiation was safe for the general public back in the 1960s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there's been plenty of research demonstrating both safety and effectiveness. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has sent irradiated foods with into space to feed the astronauts and currently, irradiation is used in 37 countries. Irradiation doesn't harm the foods, it just makes them safer.
Not all foods are irradiated -- the most commonly irradiated foods are meat and poultry, although a few fruits, spinach, lettuce, herbs and spices are irradiated as well. Irradiated foods are labeled and may have a green and white symbol called a radura.
Preventing Foodborne IllnessFoodborne illness is fairly common. According to the CDC, one of every six Americans suffers from some sort of food poisoning every year, resulting in nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Usually the disease is due to bacteria, viruses or parasites, like salmonella, campylobactor or E. Coli, that are spread through contaminated foods or water. Food irradiation can reduce the risk of spreading foodborne infection by reducing the number of pathogens that may be lurking on your food. The radiation damages the integrity of the germs' cells so they either die or lose the ability to reproduce.
Irradiation's Effect on FoodsDuring irradiation, energy is absorbed by the food, which warms it just slightly, but it doesn't cook it. The process might change the flavor of the food, which isn't unusual - pasteurization does the same thing. Irradiation doesn't cause much change in the nutritional value of the foods, although it will lower thiamine levels just a little bit. It doesn't reduce any other levels of vitamins and doesn't alter the fat or protein content.
Continue Food Safety PracticesFood irradiation doesn't replace good food safety practices at home. Keep all raw meat and poultry separate from other foods and keep cutting surfaces and utensils clean. Cook foods to the proper temperature and keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Foodborne Illness, Foodborne Disease, (Sometimes Called Food Poisoning)." Accessed October 21, 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/foodirradiation.htm.
United States Department of Agriculture. "Irradiation and Food Safety - Answers to Frequently Asked Questions." Accessed October 21, 2012. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Irradiation_and_Food_Safety/index.asp.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Food Irradiation." Accessed October 21, 2012. http://www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/sources/food_irrad.html.