Food irradiation is the process of exposing foodstuffs to ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is energy that can be transmitted without direct contact to the source of the energy capable of freeing electrons from their bonds in the targeted food. This treatment is used to food, reduce the risk of food borne illness, prevent the spread of invasive pests. Irradiated food does not become radioactive, the radiation can be emitted by a radioactive substance or generated electrically. Irradiation is also used for applications, such as medical devices. Although consumer perception of foods treated with irradiation is more negative than those processed by other means, one family of chemicals are uniquely formed by irradiation, and this product is nontoxic. When irradiating food, all other chemicals occur in a lower or comparable frequency to other processing techniques. Food irradiation is permitted by over 60 countries, with about 500,000 metric tons of food annually processed worldwide, the regulations that dictate how food is to be irradiated, as well as the food allowed to be irradiated, vary greatly from country to country. Irradiation is used to reduce or eliminate the risk of food born illnesses, prevent or slow down spoilage, arrest maturation or sprouting and as a treatment against pests. Depending on the dose, some or all of the organisms, microorganisms, bacteria. In this respect it is similar to pasteurization, Irradiation is used to create safe foods for people at high risk of infection or for conditions where food must be stored for long periods of time and or proper storage conditions are not available. Foods that can tolerate irradiation at sufficient doses are treated to ensure that the product is completely sterilized and this is most commonly done with rations for astronauts, special diets for hospital patients. Irradiation is used to create shelf stable products, since irradiation reduces the populations of spoilage microorganisms and because pre-packed food can be irradiated, the packaging prevents recontamination into the final product. Irradiation is used to reduce post harvest losses and it reduces populations of spoilage micro-organisms in the food and can slow down the speed at which enzymes change the food and therefore slows spoilage, ripening, and inhibits sprouting. Food is also irradiated to prevent the spread of invasive pest species through trade in vegetables and fruits. The pests are sterilized when the food is treated by low doses of irradiation, in general the higher doses required to destroy pests such as insects, mealybugs, mites, moths and butterflies either affect the look or taste or cannot be tolerated by fresh produce. Low dosage treatments enables trade across quarantine boundaries and may help reduce spoilage. Irradiation has been approved by many countries, for example in the US the FDA has approved food irradiation for over 50 years and this phytosanitary irradiation aims to render any hitch-hiking pest incapable of breeding
A portable, trailer-mounted food irradiation machine, circa 1968
Efficiency illustration of the different radiation technologies (electron beam, X-ray, gamma rays)
The international Radura logo, used to show a food has been treated with ionizing radiation.
The Radura symbol, as required by U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations to show a food has been treated with ionizing radiation.