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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Food irradiation watch

Yesterday I was doing my usual food shop at my local organic shop santos, when a little leaflet caught my eye on the way out. It was about food irradiation, to be honest I had heard about it a couple of times, but wasn't really sure what exactly it was all about, I must say it was a quiet an eye opener and thought I might share a little bit of information on food irradiation. 

Food irradiation is the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation to destroy microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, or insects that might be present in the food. Further applications include sprout inhibition, delay of ripening, increase of juice yield, and improvement of re-hydration. Irradiated food does not become radioactive, but in some cases there may be subtle chemical changes. Food irradiation acts by damaging the target organism's DNA beyond its ability to repair. Microorganisms can no longer proliferate and continue their malignant or pathogenic activities. Spoilage-causing microorganisms cannot continue their activities. Insects do not survive, or become incapable of reproduction. Plants cannot continue their natural ripening processes.Irradiation is a more general term of the exposure of materials to radiation to achieve a technical goal (in this context "ionizing radiation" is implied). As such it is also used on non-food items, such as medical hardware, plastics, tubes for gas pipelines, hoses for floor heating, shrink-foils for food packaging, automobile parts, wires and cables (isolation), tires, and even gemstones.
The energy density per atomic transition of ionizing radiation is very high; it can break apart molecules and induce ionization, which is not achieved by mere heating. This is the reason for both new effects and new concerns. The treatment of solid food by ionizing radiation can provide an effect similar to heat pasteurization of liquids, such as milk. However, the use of the term "cold pasteurization" to describe irradiated foods is controversial, since pasteurization and irradiation are fundamentally different processes.
Food irradiation is currently permitted by over 40 countries, and the volume of food so treated is estimated to exceed 500,000 metric tons annually worldwide.

What foods may be irradiated? 
Food Standards Australia New Zealand has so far approved: 
Herbs, spices,  and herbal infusions 
tropical fruits - breadfruit,  carambola, custard apple, litchi, longan, mango, mangosteen, 
     papaya and rambutan 
However, irradiated products may enter the food chain through sources which are not 
legally classified as “food”: 
Therapeutic products and pharmaceuticals may be  irradiated.  Cereal and grain fed to meat animals and beehives may be 

What other commercial products may be irradiated? 
Unfortunately there is no publicly available list of what products are currently being irradiated in Australia.   However, 
company promotional material gives insight into what may be treated with radiation.  While some irradiated medical 
products are labelled “sterilised with gamma radiation”, most irradiated products are not labelled. 
Besides herbs and spices, Australian gamma irradiation company,  Steritech Pty. Ltd  ( promotes itself as 
a place to irradiate: 
• Cereals and grains 
• Medical products  and medical supplies 
• Cosmetics and sanitary preparations 
• Pharmaceutical raw materials and veterinary products 
• Pet food 
• Packaging materials, nylon, polystyrene and polyethylene 
• Plastics 
• Wine corks 
• Animal feed 
• Beehives 
• Quarantine items 

Is it safe?
Collaborators in the food irradiation field, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, among others, tell us that food irradiation is just another way of preserving food to make it safe and wholesome - like pasteurisation, canning or freezing.Nothing could be further from the truth.You can pasteurise milk on your kitchen stove using a saucepan; heating, canning or freezing do result in some loss of nutrients, but cannot be compared to irradiation.
Exposure of food to specified Standards of irradiation smashes apart its chemical bonds, sending electrons flying. Scientific studies have shown the following results:
-Increased chromosomal damage in animals and human; Increased frequency of cell mutations; Formation of mutant bacteria;
-Increased frequency of tumours, reduced survival rate, and other health problems in animals; Increased carcinogens and other toxins in food, such as: Benzene, Formaldehyde, Octane, Butane, and Methyl Propane. (Benzene and formaldehyde are classified carcinogens); Formation of new and potentially dangerous compounds in foods called Unique Radiolytic Products, which have yet to be enumerated and identified. The higher the dose of radiation, the greater the number of U.R.P.s formed. One of these, 2-DCB, has recently been proven to cause cellular and genetic damage in human and rat cells; and FI causes the formation of free radicals. 
-Vitamin content is reduced by up to 96% depending upon the food item and other factors. Vitamins affected are A, B, C, E and K. Also, amino acids and polyunsaturated fats can be depleted.

For more information and action you can take against food irriadiation visit


  1. This is interesting- thanks for brining more light to this issue- knowledge is power! Lovely to meet you- all the best in the new year.

  2. Yes your right knowledge is power! All the best for a beautiful new year also!