We often pay so much attention to what we want to keep out of our food (trans fats, artificial colors, GMO ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, excess salt) that we can so easily overlook what health risks may be going on to our foods. Irradiation is a process that affects more than 40 types of food products. It's approved for use in 37 countries with each nation producing at least 10,000 tons of irradiated food a year. So how does this affect what's on your plate?
According to the FDA, irradiation is a food safety technology similar to pasteurization that can help with the elimination of disease-causing microorganisms such as E. coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella. It may also reduce insects, parasites, spoilage and, in some fruits or vegetables, it can delay ripening and sprouting.
The low-levels of radiation are not powerful enough to make food radioactive, according to the FDA website, and several scientific studies have shown that nutrient content, flavor and texture of food is not affected by irradiation. But, a number of health experts have concerns about the safety of this process. New York, New Jersey and Maine prohibit the sale and distribution of irradiated foods, as do countries including Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand.
The Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC) suggests irradiation causes complex chemical changes in food, which have never been tested for cancer or other delayed effects. According to their website, irradiation not only reduces levels of essential nutrients in foods but there are "numerous reports of chronic toxic effects in insensitive studies on test animals fed unextracted whole irradiated food. These include reproductive damage in rodents and chromosomal damage in rodents, monkeys and children."
You can tell if your food has been irradiated if you notice the international symbol for irradiation, the radura, which must be on packages if more than 10 percent of the product was irradiated. The phrase, "treated by irradiation" (or "with irradiation") must also be on packages where the contents have been irradiated.
The most commonly irradiated foods include red meat, poultry, pork, eggs, wheat, potatoes, spices and dry vegetable seasonings, and fresh fruits and vegetables commonly at risk for bacterial contamination such as spinach. According to current regulations, no organic food items can be irradiated...another reason to support organic farming in America.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger