Food irradiation is the agricultural industry’s method of ridding processed foods of bacteria (both good and bad) by exposing it to high doses of radiation. Gamma rays, X-rays or electron beams may be used as the source of radiation. While effective in killing bacteria, irradiation is not effective against mad cow disease and viruses such as hepatitis and foot and mouth disease.
The health consequences of eating irradiated food are not yet known. What is known is that irradiated foods have an altered molecular structure, and the process of irradiation causes the formation of carcinogens such as benzene, toluene and other toxic chemicals. Animals that have been fed irradiated foods have developed serious health problems including cancer, mutations, stillbirth, premature death, and other problems.
It is also know that irradiation causes foods to lose at least some of their nutritional value. When foods are exposed to amounts of radiation that are significantly less than the amount deemed safe by the FDA, vitamin levels are significantly diminished.
Returning to the topic of killing bacteria, even though irradiation does do that quite effectively, food may become re-contaminated easily during shipping, while at the retail location, or during preparation by the consumer. As an answer to the problems posed by factory farms and slaughterhouses that are by nature unsanitary, irradiation partially solves one problem and creates many more. Proper cooking and preparation techniques will assure that the food you consume is free of harmful bacteria.
If you wish to avoid food that has been irradiated, look for the Radura symbol. This symbol means that the food item has been irradiated. It is required by law that irradiated foods bear this symbol. And it’s the symbol you want to avoid if you don’t want to serve irradiated food at your table.
Any of the following foods are approved by the FDA for irradiation: Spices, red meat, poultry, shell eggs, sprouts, seeds, and produce. Spices are not required to bear the Radura symbol if they are irradiated. To avoid getting irradiated spices, always purchase organic. Purchasing locally produced foods is a good way to avoid irradiation and is good for the local economy and family farmer. It’s important to note that it may be impossible to know whether foods purchased at your local diner or your favorite fast food restaurant have been irradiated. Boxed mixes may or may not have ingredients that have been irradiated. As with any meals you serve, the most healthy and free of potential problems is a meal that you prepare from fresh local foods that you have purchased and prepared yourself.