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.

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