One Tool for Safe Food: Commercial Irradiators

Maureen Conley
Public Affairs Officer

Foodborne Pathogen Sickens Many

This headline appears far too often. While the U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world, there are an estimated 48 million food-borne illnesses here annually, according to the Food and Drug Administration. That translates into one in six Americans falling ill every year. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

irradiatorOne important tool in the fight against foodborne illnesses may surprise you. Exposing food to radiation can eliminate pathogens—bacteria, viruses and parasites. Much like pasteurizing milk or canning produce, irradiation makes food safer and extends its shelf life.

The FDA has overseen the safe irradiation of food for more than 30 years. Other U.S. and world organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the World Health Organization, have all agreed that food irradiation is safe. The NRC plays a role too. The NRC licenses, inspects and oversees the operation of commercial irradiators.

It is important to understand that irradiated food does not become radioactive. The nutritional quality is unaffected and the process does not change the taste, texture or appearance of the food. Consumers will know their food has been treated this way only by its label. All irradiated food must have a label that states it has been treated with radiation. The label must also carry the international symbol for irradiation. fdalabel

For more information on the NRC’s role in licensing and overseeing irradiators, see our newly updated backgrounder on commercial irradiators.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

13 thoughts on “One Tool for Safe Food: Commercial Irradiators”

  1. How long has this method been testing? And isn’t this method destroys some useful bacterias in food also?

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  4. This is really more FDA’s territory. Their website says irradiation does not compromise the nutritional quality of food. The NRC’s role is to ensure the public is protected from the use of nuclear materials.

    Maureen Conley

  5. Great article but clarification is needed with regard to radiation levels used. 1. Food irradiation uses very high levels of radiation to eliminate contaminates such as bacteria. 2. This article seems to indicate that all radiation is harmful at any level which is not the case.

    Radiation is not harmful at low levels and the more recent science actually indicates that elevated levels of exposure are actually beneficial to health.

    It’s always important to remember that the dose makes a poison. Radiation exposure is comparable to using toothpaste. Brushing your teeth saves your teeth but if you were to swallow several tubes of toothpaste it would be harmful. Radiation’s affect on humans is similar. A little is good but a lot is bad.

  6. My concern is not related to the food becoming radioactive. My concern is what the radiation does to the food itself on a cellular and molecular level. I have read information indicating that radiation, end in your microwave can break down enzymes and other important nutrients. Has enough research been do to determine to conclusively indicate that the nutrients are not impacted.

  7. i just wonder if exposing food to radiation wont make it radioactive, has enough research been done by independent experts coz what if they are wrong

  8. But you microwave your food right? That is radiation too. Microwaves kill some of the germs after about 3 minutes of irradiation. Gamma rays kill 98% of the germs after only a few seconds and without the heat. Big companies are taking financial shortcuts with food safety all the time and are exposing us to too many germs. With the political push to limit government intervention in big business the food poisonings will only get worse and worse without something like this to protect us.

  9. Radiation is energy. Sunlight is an example of radiation. The energy passes through the food killing the germs. Contamination is invisible radioactive dust. The food is NOT contaminated as there is no contamination to be found. The food is irradiated meaning the energy is passed through it. As safe as if the sunlight touched the food.

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