List of Pros and Cons of Food Irradiation

Food irradiation is a process by which food products are treated with xx-rays, electron beam and gamma rays to get rid of microbial organisms that are known to be harmful for human consumption. The process successfully eliminates most known bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. These organisms can not only cause food borne ailments but can also lead to spoilage of food, contamination of varying degrees, delayed ripening or sprouting among others. Food irradiation has been an FDA approved procedure since 1963. The FDA allows the use if irradiation technology to clean and facilitate the packaging of various products including pork, beef, fresh fruits, crustaceans, poultry, spinach, lettuce, spices, seasoning and shell eggs.

The FDA has always gone on record assuring and reassuring the citizens that irradiation is a safe process and that there is no harm posed to human health. In addition to protecting food, irradiation also increases shelf life which is critical given the nationwide supply chain and nationally and internationally sourced foods sold across the country. Although the FDA has never left any room for ambiguity or uncertainty, there are many people who think that irradiation is not necessary and that it is not a safe practice. Let us explore the food irradiation pros and cons to put these issues into specific perspective.

List of Pros of Food Irradiation

1. Contributes to Food Safety
Food irradiation makes food products safe. There is no doubt about this benefit. Not only can the process get rid of significantly less harmful microbes but also the likes of Salmonella and Escherichia coli. Normal washing doesn’t manage to get rid of these bacteria or other microbes. These can cause severe trouble to the health of millions of people around the country in no time and can cause irreparable damage to those who have AIDS or are undergoing chemotherapy. Impaired or weakened immune system is more vulnerable to these microbes. Food irradiation then does seem necessary.

2. Enhanced Shelf Life
Americans have long been using processed and packaged foods. The need to have packaged foods shipped to distant parts of the country originated in the US. This calls for impeccable shelf life or at least one desirable to be deemed viable for the producers, sellers and consumers. Food irradiation can get rid of pathogens, impurities and other microbes to enhance the shelf life of most foods. The foods do not get easily decomposed or spoiled.

3. Absolutely No Chemical Residue
Many people believe that irradiation is a process that involves radiation and hence radioactive materials will find their way into the foods. There is also a concern that foods undergo a substantial change in taste, texture and nutrients when subjected to irradiation. All these fears are unfounded. World Health Organization, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Center for Disease Control and Prevention have all inferred that none of these concerns exist. There are no radioactive traces in the foods. There is no adverse impact on texture, quality or taste of the food products.

4. Negligible Nutrients Loss
It is well known that nutrient loss happens when we treat any food, be it when we are cooking or when we boil, freeze or just preserve the foods in some way. Food irradiation causes the least, almost negligible loss to nutrients.

5. Reliable Labeling
Irradiated foods are labeled with Radura. Everyone knows what this label means and hence can safely buy what they wish to consume. Without such a label, there is no telling how a particular food has been processed, packaged or even produced and shipped. The label also allows people to avoid buying irradiated food if they are still unsure of its safety and necessity.

List of Cons of Food Irradiation

1. Does Not Guarantee Total Food Safety.
Food irradiation does not always get rid of all toxins that could be present in a food item. No process can successfully eliminate all toxins. Irradiation gets the most toxins out including viruses.

2. Adverse Impact on Animals
Food irradiation has no adverse impact on the health of humans those who consume such foods. But there are instances when some animals have apparently been put to risk due to consumption of irradiated foods. Irradiated foods are not meant for animals so one must not feed livestock or pets with such foods. In some cases, animals have been diagnosed with cancer, chromosomal ailments and have died prematurely.

3. Environmental Contamination
Disasters originating from food irradiation facilities are rare and today almost unheard of. But there have been cases in the pas such as the Decatur, Georgia incident when radioactive water managed to escape from the radiation sterilizer facility and a whopping $47 million was needed to clean it up. Irradiation facilities are expensive to build, run and maintain. Though they are impeccably safe these days, there is the possible danger of some leak.