Food irradiation

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The international Radura logo, used to show a food has been treated with ionizing radiation.

Food irradiation is the process of exposing foodstuffs to a source of energy capable of stripping electrons from individual atoms in the targeted material (ionizing radiation).[1] The radiation can be emitted by a radioactive substance or generated by high-energy accelerators including X-ray converters. Irradiated food does not become radioactive.

This treatment is used to preserve food, reduce the risk of food borne illness, prevent the spread of invasive pests, delay or eliminate sprouting or ripening, increase juice yield, and improve re-hydration. It is permitted by over 50 countries, with 500,000 metric tons of foodstuffs annually processed worldwide.

Food irradiation is criticized because of the potential for irradiation to initiate chemical changes that will be different from the chemical changes due to heating food (Unique Radiolytic Products), and the potential danger of these substances. However, research has found only that most if not all of these substances are not unique as they are also produced when heating food, all have been found to be nontoxic, and they occur in lower or comparable doses when eating food.[2][3][4][5] Others criticize it because it is often confused with radioactive contamination or because of its association with the nuclear industry.

Due to the criticism and the associated public pressure, the regulations that are placed upon ingratiated food as well as food allowed to be irradiated, vary greatly from country to country. In Austria, Germany, and many other countries of the European Union a single food category (dried herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings) is allowed to be processed with irradiation, while in Brazil all foods are allowed.[6][7][8][9][10]

Irradiation is also used for non-food applications, such as medical devices, plastics, tubes for gas pipelines, hoses for floor heating, shrink-foils for food packaging, automobile parts, wires and cables (isolation), tires, and even gemstones.


Depending on the dose, some or all of the microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, or insects present are destroyed or rendered incapable of reproduction, reducing or eliminating the risk of food borne illness. When the enzymic action is slowed down and spoilage organisms are affected spoilage is halted or slowed down. This prolongs the shelf-life and has been shown to delay the ripening of fruits and the sprouting of vegetables. Some foods, e.g., herbs and spices, are irradiated at sufficient doses (five kilograys or more) to reduce the microbial counts by several orders of magnitude; such ingredients do not carry over spoilage or pathogen microorganisms into the final product.[1]

Insect pests are sterilized using irradiation at relatively low doses. This stops the importation of invasive species, and allows foods to pass quickly through quarantine.[11]

There are other existing practices currently being used that do not involve radiation to reduce pathogens, increase shelf life, eliminate pests, increase juice yield, delay sprouting, and improve re-hydration. Pathogens in foods could also be reduced by more sanitary and stronger regulated agricultural practices.[12] However, such practices can only reduce the risk to a limited degree, whereas processing by ionizing radiation could practically eliminate these risks.[13][14][15]


As the energetic particles or waves pass through the target material they collide with particles. Around the sites of these collisions chemical bonds are broken, creating short lived radicals (e.g. the Hydroxyl radical, the hydrogen atom and solvated electrons). These radicals cause further chemical changes by bonding with and or striping particles from nearby molecules. This creates radiolytic products and increases the number of free radicals in the food. When collisions damage DNA or RNA, effective reproduction becomes unlikely, also when collisions occur in cells, cell division is often suppressed. Irradiated food does not become radioactive as the radioactive source is never in contact with the foodstuffs and energy of radiation is limited below the threshold of induction of radioactivity (neutron radiation is not used).

Therefore, irradiation causes a multitude of chemical changes, and these changes are what makes irradiation potentially usefully. The scale of chemical changes caused by irradiation are not unique. Cooking, smoking, salting, and other less novel techniques, cause the food to be altered so drastically that its original nature is almost unrecognizable, and must be called by a different name. Storage of food also causes dramatic chemical, ones that eventually lead to deterioration and spoilage.

Radiolytic Products[edit]

Irradiation causes many chemical changes. The formation of new, previously unknown chemical compounds (Unique Radiolytic Products) has been a concern of science from the beginning. So far, research has shown that most of the substances found in irradiated food are also found in food that has been subjected to other food processing treatments, and are therefore not unique. Furthermore, the quantities in which they occur in irradiated food are lower or similar to the quantities formed in heat treatments.[2][3][4][5] When fatty acids are irradiated a family of compounds thought to be unique radiolytic products may be produced (2-ACBs). Some studies show that these chemicals may be toxic, while others dispute this. Despite this family of compounds, these results lead to the conclusion that there is no significant risk from radiolytic products,[16] and that the radiation doses to cause toxic changes are much higher than the doses needed to accomplish the benefits of irradiation.


The radiation absorbed dose is the amount energy absorbed per unit weight of the target material. Dose is used because, when the same substance is given the same dose, similar changes are observed in the target material. The SI unit for dose is grays (Gy or J/kg). Dosimeters are used to measure dose, and are small components that, when exposed to ionizing radiation, change measurable physical attributes to a degree that can be correlated to the dose received. Measuring dose (dosimetry) involves exposing one or more dosimeters along with the target material.[17][18]

Modern dosimeters are made of a range of materials, such as alanine pellets, perspex (PMMA) blocks, and radiochromic films, as well as special solutions and other materials. These dosimeters are used in combination with specialized read out devices.[relevant? ] Standards that describe calibration and operation for radiation dosimetry, as well as procedures to relate the measured dose to the effects achieved and to report and document such results, are maintained by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM international) and are also available as ISO/ASTM standards.[19][relevant? ]

Doses are generally divided into low (up to 1 kGy), medium (1 kGy to 10 kGy), and high dose applications (above 10 kGy). High dose applications are above those currently permitted in the USA for commercial food items by the FDA and other regulators around the world.[20] Though these doses are approved for non commercial applications, such as sterilizing frozen meat for NASA astronauts (doses of 44 kGy)[21] and food for hospital patients.

Applications By Overall Average Dose
Low dose (up to 1 kGy) Medium dose (1 kGy to 10 kGy) High dose (above 10 kGy)
Application Dose (kGy) Application Dose (kGy) Application Dose (kGy)
Inhibit sprouting[a] 0.03-0.15 kGy Delay spoilage of meat[b] 1.50–3.00 kGy Sterilization[c] of packaged meat[b] 25.00-70.00 kGy
Delay fruit ripening 0.03-0.15 kGy Reduce risk of pathogens in meat[b] 3.00–7.00 kGy Increase juice yield[citation needed]
Stop insect/parasite infestations[d] 0.07-1.00 kGy Increase sanitation[e] of spices[22] 10.00 kGy Improve re-hydration[citation needed]


Efficiency illustration of the different radiation technologies (electron beam, X-ray, gamma rays)

Irradiation treatments are also sometimes classified as radappertization, radicidation and radurization.[23] Food irradiation is sometimes referred to as "cold pasteurization"[24] or "electronic pasteurization"[25] because ionizing the food does not heat the food to high temperatures during the process, as in heat-pasteurization (at a typical dose of 10 kGy, food that is physically equivalent to water would warm by about 2.5 °C). The treatment of solid food by ionizing radiation can provide an effect similar to heat pasteurization of liquids, such as milk. The use of the term "cold pasteurization" to describe irradiated foods is controversial, because pasteurization and irradiation are fundamentally different processes, although the intended end results can in some cases be similar.

Interlocks and safeguards are mandated to minimize this risk. There have been radiation related accidents, deaths, and injury at such facilities, many of them caused by operators overriding the safety related interlocks.[26] In a radiation processing facility, radiation specific concerns are supervised by special authorities, while "Ordinary" occupational safety regulations are handled much like other businesses.

The safety of irradiation facilities is regulated by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency and monitored by the different national Nuclear Regulatory Commissions. The regulators enforce a safety culture that mandates that all incidents that occur are documented and thoroughly analyzed to determine the cause and improvement potential. Such incidents are studied by personnel at multiple facilities, and improvements are mandated to retrofit existing facilities and future design.

In the US the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates the safety of the processing facility, and the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates the safe transport of the radioactive sources.

Electron irradiation[edit]

Electron irradiation uses electrons accelerated in an electric field to a velocity close to the speed of light. Electrons are particles, and therefore do not penetrate the product beyond a few centimeters, depending on product density.

Electron facilities rely on substantial concrete shields to protect workers and the environment from radiation exposure.

Gamma irradiation[edit]

Gamma irradiation involves exposing the target material to packets of light (photons) that are highly energetic (Gamma rays). A radioactive material (radioisotopes) is used as the source for the gamma rays. Gamma irradiation is the standard because the deeper penetration of the gamma rays enables administering treatment to entire industrial pallets or totes, reducing the need for material handling.

Generally cobalt-60 is used as a radioactive source for food irradiation. Cobalt-60 is bred from cobalt-59 using neutron irradiation in specifically designed nuclear reactors.[27] In limited applications caesium-137, a less costly alternative recovered during the processing of spent nuclear fuel, is used as a radioactive source. Insufficient quantities are available for large scale commercial use. An incident where water soluble caesium-137 leaked into the source storage pool requiring NRC intervention[28] has led to near elimination of this radioisotope outside of military applications.

Special precautions are taken because gamma rays are continuously emitted by the radioactive material. In most designs, to nullify the effects of radiation, the radioisotope is lowered into a water-filled storage pool, which absorbs the radiation but does not become radioactive. This allows the products are added and removed from the irradiation chamber and other maintenance to be done. Further shielding is required for when the chamber is in use. In some gamma irradiators the radioactive source is under water at all times, and the hermetically sealed product is lowered into the water. No further shielding is required for such designs. Other designs feature dry storage by providing movable shields that reduce radiation levels in areas of the irradiation chamber.

Treatment costs vary as a function of dose and facility usage. A pallet or tote is typically exposed for several minutes to hours depending on dose. Low dose applications such as disinfestation of fruit range between US$0.01/lbs and US$0.08/lbs while higher dose applications can cost as much as US$0.20/lbs.[29]

X-ray irradiation[edit]

Illustration of the penetration properties of the different radiation technologies (electron beam, X-ray, gamma rays)

Irradiation by X-ray is similar to irradiation by gamma rays in that less energetic packets of light (X-rays) are used. X-rays are generated by colliding accelerated electrons with a dense material (this process is known as bremsstrahlung-conversion), and therefore do not necessitate the use of radioactive materials. X-rays ability to penetrate the target is similar to gamma irradiation. X-ray machine produces better dose uniformity then Gamma irradiation, and stops radiating when switched off, but they require much more electricity then gamma irradiation as only as much as 12% of the input energy is converted into X-rays.

X-ray facilities rely on substantial concrete shields to protect workers and the environment from radiation exposure.

Nominal X-ray energy is usually limited to 5 MeV; the USA has provisions for up to 7.5 MeV, which increases conversion efficiency. Another development is the availability of electron accelerators with extremely high power output, up to 1,000 kW beam.[relevant? ] At a conversion efficiency of up to 12%, the X-ray power may reach (including filtering and other losses) 100 kW; this power would be equivalent to a gamma facility with about 5.5 kg of pure Co-60 (6.5 MCi).[relevant? ]


The cost of food irradiation is influenced by dose requirements, the food's tolerance of radiation, handling conditions, i.e., packaging and stacking requirements, construction costs, financing arrangements, and other variables particular to the situation.[30] Irradiation is a capital-intensive technology requiring a substantial initial investment, ranging from $1 million to $5 million. In the case of large research or contract irradiation facilities, major capital costs include a radiation source, hardware (irradiator, totes and conveyors, control systems, and other auxiliary equipment), land (1 to 1.5 acres), radiation shield, and warehouse. Operating costs include salaries (for fixed and variable labor), utilities, maintenance, taxes/insurance, cobalt-60 replenishment, general utilities, and miscellaneous operating costs.[29][31]

Irradiated Food Supply[edit]

There are analytical methods available to detect the usage of irradiation on food items in the marketplace.[32][33][34] This may be understood as a tool for government authorities to enforce existing labeling standards and to bolster consumer confidence.

Currently, there is no global trade in irradiated food, except a rather small quantity of fruit irradiated to eliminate insect pests and to fulfill the US quarantine requirements. There is not much information about irradiated food available to the consumer on the market place; a few more recent surveys do not reveal the full picture.[8][9] It may be assumed that even international trade exists.

United States Irradiated Food Supply[edit]

Fresh tropical fruit from Hawaii, Florida, Mexico, some Asian countries, India, and Pakistan,[35][36][citation needed] dehydrated spices,[37] spinach[38] and ground meat products.[39][40]

Mexico may become the largest exporter of irradiated produce to the U.S. at this point. Varieties will include Mango, Sweet citrus, Manzano Pepper, Starfruit, Guava according to the current US / Mexico irradiation work plan.[citation needed]

European Union Irradiated Food Supply[edit]

Irradiated foods produced within the EU that fall within the single category; 'dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings' are permitted presently in all 27 member states of the European Community.[41] Though imports into the EC are possible from third countries and the seven countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom) that allow other[42] irradiated foods to be marketed as long as they comply with Directive 1999/2/EC.

The controls on food irradiation, and in particular the strict labeling requirements are regarded by many as restrictive. It is rare to find irradiated and clearly labelled food items on sale. The European Union's official site gives information on the regulatory status of food irradiation, the quantities of foods irradiated at authorized facilities in European Union member states and the results of market surveillance where foods have been tested to see if they are irradiated. The Official Journal of the European Union publishes annual reports on food irradiation, the current report [43] covers the period from 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2010 and compiles information from 27 Member States.

In total, 9263.4 tonnes of food products were irradiated in European Union countries in 2010; mainly in three member state countries: Belgium (63%), the Netherlands (17%) and France (11%). The three types of foods irradiated the most were frog legs (48%), poultry (23%) and dried herbs and spices (16%).

Table of the history of food irradiation[edit]

  • 1895 Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovers X-rays ("bremsstrahlung", from German for radiation produced by deceleration)
  • 1896 Antoine Henri Becquerel discovers natural radioactivity; Minck proposes the therapeutic use[44]
  • 1904 Samuel Prescott describes the bactericide effects Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)[45]
  • 1906 Appleby & Banks: UK patent to use radioactive isotopes to irradiate particulate food in a flowing bed[46]
  • 1918 Gillett: U.S. Patent to use X-rays for the preservation of food[47]
  • 1921 Schwartz describes the elimination of Trichinella from food[48]
  • 1930 Wuest: French patent on food irradiation[49]
  • 1943 MIT becomes active in the field of food preservation for the U.S. Army[50]
  • 1951 U.S. Atomic Energy Commission begins to co-ordinate national research activities
  • 1958 World first commercial food irradiation (spices) at Stuttgart, Germany[51]
  • 1970 Establishment of the International Food Irradiation Project (IFIP), headquarters at the Federal Research Centre for Food Preservation, Karlsruhe, Germany
  • 1980 FAO/IAEA/WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Irradiation recommends the clearance generally up to 10 kGy "overall average dose"[2]
  • 1981/1983 End of IFIP after reaching its goals
  • 1983 Codex Alimentarius General Standard for Irradiated Foods: any food at a maximum "overall average dose" of 10 kGy
  • 1984 International Consultative Group on Food Irradiation (ICGFI) becomes the successor of IFIP
  • 1997 FAO/IAEA/WHO Joint Study Group on High-Dose Irradiation recommends to lift any upper dose limit[4]
  • 2003 Codex Alimentarius General Standard for Irradiated Foods: no longer any upper dose limit
  • 2004 ICGFI ends

Public Impact, Opinion, and Safety[edit]

Irradiation has not been widely adopted due to an asserted negative public perception, the concerns expressed by some consumer groups and the reluctance of many food producers.[52] Consumer perception of foods treated with irradiation is more negative than those processed by other means. "People think the product is radioactive," said Harlan Clemmons, president of Sadex, a food irradiation company based in Sioux City, Iowa.[53] Certain supermarkets prefer not to carry irradiated products for reasons of consumer perception.

On the other hand, other studies indicate the number of consumers concerned about the safety of irradiated food has decreased in the last 10 years and continues to be less than the number of those concerned about pesticide residues, microbiological contamination, and other food related concerns. Such numbers are comparable to those of people with no concern about food additives and preservatives. Consumers, given a choice and access to irradiated products, appear ready to buy it in considerably large numbers.[54][55]

Australian Ban of Irradiated Cat Food[edit]

A series of fatal cat incidents with irradiated pet food[56] in Australia led the cat food company responsible to recall any product from the market. Irradiation at elevated doses or heat sterilization was compulsory at the time of this incident. The company and several scientist speculated this might have been caused by Vitamin A depletion. Over 40 cats were reported to have been euthanized after severe paralysis subsequent to being fed a particular brand of cat food.[57]

There is consensus in the scientific community that the problem was specific to the lot, not the irradiation process because: [57][58][59]

  • The series of incidents was linked only to a single batch of the brand's product and no illness was linked to any of that brand's other irradiated batches of the same product or to any other brand of irradiated cat food,
  • There was no evidence of Vitamin A depletion in any of the cats studied, although there were not enough cats sampled to prove conclusively that there were no cases of Vitamin A depletion.
  • Histopathological damage to the white matter of spinal cord and brain was seen. No gross abnormalities were found during postmortem examination. The report by the Australian Veterinary Journal states that there is no known mechanism by which changes induced in foods by irradiation could result in this kind of damage.

Radiation processing of imported cat food has now been banned in Australia.[60] The AQIS announced on June 6, 2009 that the alternative of radiation processing for cat food is no longer acceptable and that irradiated dog food is required to be labeled "Must not be fed to cats".[61][62]

Since 2009, no study has been published contributing to clearing-up this issue.


Radiation processing can serve and contribute as an ultimate safeguard before the food reaches the consumer, but consumer advocacy groups, such as Public Citizen or Food and Water Watch, maintain that that a lack of regulatory oversight (such as regular food processing plant inspections) necessitates irradiation[12][63] and that irradiation is unnecessary[vague] in today's food system[citation needed][64][irrelevant citation]. The argument is made that, if food can be safely processed without irradiation then all non beneficial effects of irradiation (whether known or unknown, severe or minor) are not worthwhile. This argument ignores the cost of regulatory oversight and disregards the benefits that innovative uses of irradiation have on the marketplace.

Concerns that irradiation might be used to sanitize contaminated food, therefore masking its spoiled contents, have been expressed by consumer advocacy groups [12][63] and public health experts[citation needed]. Although the process of spoilage would cease, irradiation would not destroy the toxins already present.[65] Being able to disguise spoiled foods, in spite of processors of irradiated food being subject to all existing regulations, might then lead to lax safeguards in food processing facilities, and therefore lead to a greater introduction of contaminates.[66] Successfully masking spoiled food with irradiation alone would be impossible as it would not be able to correct the foods smell, color, taste, or texture as with heat pasteurization of spoiled milk.[citation needed] Some groups worry that killing bacteria will have a negative effect such as creating radiation tolerant bacteria and killing "good bacteria" that inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

Several national expert groups and two international expert groups evaluated the available data and concluded that any food at any dose is wholesome and safe to consume as long as it remains palatable and maintains its technical properties (e.g. feal, texture, or color).[2][4] Still, a major concern is that irradiation might cause chemical changes that are harmful to the consumer. In particular the argument is that there is a lack of long-term studies, and therefore the safety of irradiated food is not scientifically proven [67] in spite of the fact that hundreds of animal feeding studies of irradiated food, including multigenerational studies, have been performed since 1950.[16] Endpoints investigated have included subchronic and chronic changes in metabolism, histopathology, and function of most systems; reproductive effects; growth; teratogenicity; and mutagenicity. A large number of studies have been performed; meta-studies have supported the safety of irradiated food.[2][4][16][68][69] Opponents also refer to a number of scientific publications reporting significant negative effects of irradiated food.[weasel words] However, the below experiments could be either not verified in later experiments, could not be clearly attributed to the radiation effect, or could be attributed to an inappropriate design of the experiment etc.[16][65]

  • India's National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) found an elevated rate of cells with more than one set of genes (Polyploidy) in humans and animals when fed wheat that was irradiated recently (within 12 weeks). Upon analysis scientist determined that the techniques used by NIN allowed for too much statistical variation, and where therefore unreliable. After multiple studies by independent agencies and scientists no correlation between polyploidy and irradiation of food could be found.[65]
  • Increase of aflatoxin production by irradiated microorganisms[citation needed]
  • Vitamin deficiencies at extremely high doses to the complete diet[citation needed]
  • Non-vitamin effects at higher doses (free radicals?)[citation needed]
  • Change in chronaxie in rats[citation needed]

Organic food advocacy groups state that irradiation makes food less palatable (impairing flavor, texture, ...).[70] but studies show, that at least for some foods properly treated irradiated foods are seen by consumers as having a higher or equal quality when compared to untreated foods.[65] Organic food advocacy groups also consider labeling irradiated food as raw as misleading as nutritional content is impacted in ways similar to cooking.[70]

Regulation of Food Irradiation in Consumer Products[edit]

The Codex Alimentarius represents the global standard for irradiation of food, in particular under the WTO-agreement. Member states are free to convert those standards into national regulations at there discretion. Therefore regulations about irradiation differ from country to country.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has passed a motion to commit member states to implement irradiation technology for their national phytosanitary programs; the General assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has urged wider use of the irradiation technology.


The Radura symbol, as required by U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations to show a food has been treated with ionizing radiation.

The provisions of the Codex Alimentarius are that any "first generation" product must be labeled "irradiated" as any product derived directly from an irradiated raw material; for ingredients the provision is that even the last molecule of an irradiated ingredient must be listed with the ingredients even in cases where the unirradiated ingredient does not appear on the label. The RADURA-logo is optional; several countries use a graphical version that differs from the Codex-version. The suggested rules for labeling prepacked is published at CODEX-STAN – 1 (2005),[71] and includes the usage of the Radura symbol for all products that contain irradiated foods. The Radura symbol is not a designator of quality. The amount of pathogens remaining is based upon dose and the original content and the dose applied can vary on a product by product basis.

The European union follows the Codex's provision to label irradiated ingredients down to the last molecule of irradiated foodstuffs. The European Community does not provide for the use of the Radura logo and relies exclusively on labeling by the appropriate phrases in the respective languages of the Member States. The European Union enforces its irradiation labeling laws by requiring its member countries to perform tests on a cross section of food items in the market-place and to report to the European Commission. The results are published annually in the OJ of the European Communities.[72]

The US defines irradiated foods as foods in which the irradiation causes a material change in the food, or a material change in the consequences that may result from the use of the food. Therefore food that is processed as an ingredient by a restaurant or food processor is exempt from the labeling requirement in the US. This definition is not consistent with the Codex Alimentarius. All irradiated foods must bear a slightly modified[71] Radura symbol at the point of sale and use the term "irradiated" or a derivative there of, in conjunction with explicit language describing the change in the food or its conditions of use.[73]


In 2003, the Codex Alimentarius removed any upper dose limit for food irradiation as well as clearances for specific foods, declaring that all are safe to irradiate. Countries such as Pakistan and Brazil have adopted the Codex without any reservation or restriction. Other countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, India, and Mexico, have permitted the irradiation of fresh fruits for fruit fly quarantine purposes, amongst others.

United States Clearances[edit]

Each new food is approved separately with a guideline specifying a maximum dosage; in case of quarantine applications the minimum dose is regulated. Packaging materials containing the food processed by irradiation must also undergo approval. Food irradiation in the United States is primarily regulated by the FDA[74] since it is considered a food additive. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) amends these rules for use with meat, poultry, and fresh fruit.[75]

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved the use of low-level irradiation as an alternative treatment to pesticides for fruits and vegetables that are considered hosts to a number of insect pests, including fruit flies and seed weevils. Under bilateral agreements that allows less-developed countries to earn income through food exports agreements are made to allow them to irradiate fruits and vegetables at low doses to kill insects, so that the food can avoid quarantine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared among a number of other applications the treatment of hamburger patties to eliminate the residual risk of a contamination by a virulent E. coli.

European Union Clearances[edit]

European law dictates that no foods other than dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings are permitted for the application of irradiation.[76] However, any Member State is permitted to maintain previously granted clearances, add new clearance as granted in other Member States or add clearances that the EC's Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) approved. Presently, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom) have adopted such provisions.[77] It also states that irradiation shall not be used "as a substitute for hygiene or health practices or good manufacturing or agricultural practice". These regulations only govern food irradiation in consumer products to allow irradiation to be used for patients requiring sterile diets

Because of the "Single Market" of the EC that any food – even if irradiated – must be allowed to be marketed in any other Member State even if a general ban of food irradiation prevails, under the condition that the food has been irradiated legally in the state of origin. Furthermore, imports into the EC are possible from third countries if the irradiation facility had been inspected and approved by the EC and the treatment is legal within the EC or some Member state.[78][79][80][81][82]

History of EU Regulation[edit]

European Union Directives 1999/2/EC (framework Directive) and 1999/3/EC (implementing Directive) have been in effect since 1999. These directives do not govern "the irradiation of foodstuffs which are prepared for patients requiring sterile diets under medical supervision" or foodstuffs exposed to ionizing radiation generated by most inspection devices. The directives forbid food irradiation for all foodstuffs not in the positive list (found in the ANNEX of the implementing directive.[76]

In 1992,[83] and in 1998[84] the SCF voted "positive" on a number of irradiation applications that had been allowed in some member states before the EC Directives came into force, to enable those member states to maintain their national authorizations, but also required that before the actual list of individual items or food classes can be expanded, new individual studies into the toxicology of each of such food and for each of the proposed dose ranges are requested. The Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) of the EC had given a positive vote on eight categories of food to be irradiated.[85] However, in a compromise between the European Parliament and the European Commission, one category (dried aromatic herbs, spices, and vegetable seasonings) was included on the positive list.[76]

The European Commission was scheduled to provide a final draft for the positive list by the end of 2000; however, this failed because of a veto from Germany and a few other Member States. In 2003, when the Codex drop the maximum 10 kGy dose requirement and at the same time stopped using the term "overall average dose" (instead referring to maximum dose and minimum dose), the SCF adopted a "revised opinion",[86] that denied cancellation of the upper dose limit. The SCF has subsequently been replaced by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

In April 2011, EFSA’s experts updated their scientific advice on the safety of food irradiation. A summary of their findings and recommendations,[87] was published, as were two detailed reports; one on the chemical safety,[88] of food irradiation and the other on the efficacy and microbiological safety,[89] of food irradiation.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ bulbs and tubers
  2. ^ a b c fresh or frozen red meat, poultry, and seafoods
  3. ^ shelf stable without refrigeration
  4. ^ to help clear quarantine
  5. ^ improve hygienic quality


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  2. ^ a b c d e World Health Organization. Wholesomeness of irradiated food. Geneva, Technical Report Series No. 659, 1981
  3. ^ a b anon., Safety and nutritional adequacy of irradiated food, WHO, Geneva, 1994
  4. ^ a b c d e World Health Organization. High-Dose Irradiation: Wholesomeness of Food Irradiated With Doses Above 10 kGy. Report of a Joint FAO/IAEA/WHO Study Group. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 1999. WHO Technical Report Series No. 890
  5. ^ a b anon., Scientific Opinion on the Chemical Safety of Irradiation of Food, EFSA Journal 2011;9(4):1930 [57 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2011.1930 last visited 2013-03-03
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  7. ^ Food irradiation, Position of ADA, J Am Diet Assoc. 2000;100:246-253. retrieved November 15, 2007
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