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January 2009 Issue

Irradiation: What the Is, What it Does, and How it Affects the Food Supply By Sharon Palmer, RD Today’s Dietitian Vol. 11 No. 1 P. 32

It may host the power to help solve the world food security problems, however are there any hidden prices to this high-tech solution?

Food irradiation is today’s pasteurization. In the beforehand 1900s, pasteurization wiped out rampant milk-borne conditions such together typhoid fever, scarlet fever, and diphtheria, however some human being were concerned around its effects on milk quality and also sanitary problems in dairy product processing. Today, food irradiation has actually the volume to significantly decrease the food-borne illnesses of our age, including Escherichia coli and also Salmonella. Yet, suspicions have emerged as many human being wonder what the technology actually involves and also whether it will negatively impact the quality and safety of their food.

What Is Food Irradiation? according to the Centers for condition Control and also Prevention (CDC), irradiation is a safe and effective modern technology that has actually the potential to prevent many food-borne diseases. Dealing with raw meat and also poultry v irradiation in ~ the slaughter plant have the right to reportedly remove bacteria such as E. Coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and also Campylobacter, biology that reason millions that infections and thousands the hospitalizations yearly in the joined States. Irradiating raw meat can also eliminate Toxoplasma biology responsible for significant eye and also congenital infections. Irradiating prepared, ready-to-eat meats together as hot dogs and also deli meat can eliminate the risk of Listeria. Irradiation can also eliminate bacteria such as Shigella and Salmonella from fresh produce, act dry foodstuffs such together spices and also grains that may be save for lengthy periods that time and transported over an excellent distances, and treat animal feeds that might be contaminated with bacteria.

“Irradiation is a modern technology that pipeline no residue in food products and destroys the DNA of microorganisms to protect against them indigenous multiplying. As soon as you irradiate food, you develop an effect on microorganisms because of their effects on DNA and also cell membranes. Photons, electrons, or x-rays to win the cabinet membranes and the DNA, damaging both. In plant cells, DNA is not forced for reproduction, so damages to DNA is irrelevant. But in bacter cells, DNA is essential for multiplication. When power strikes the DNA and also the single-strand or double-strand breaks occur, the DNA is also damaged and also can’t repair itself, so the cabinet dies,” explains Anuradha Prakash, PhD, a professor and also the routine director of food science at Chapman college in Orange, Calif., and an academy of Food engineers spokesperson.

There are three irradiation innovations that depend on three kinds the rays: gamma rays, electron beams, and also x-rays. Gamma ray technology uses the radiation offered off by the radioactive type of Cobalt-60 or Cesium-137 to create high-energy photons referred to as gamma rays, which deserve to penetrate foods to a depth of number of feet. Since these substances execute not offer off neutrons, they do not make anything around them radioactive. This type of technology has been at work for much more than 30 years because that sterilizing medical, dental, and also household products and also treating cancer. During food irradiation, the substance is pulled right into a chamber with huge concrete walls that keep any rays indigenous escaping, therefore the food is exposed to the rays for a defined period of time.

The electron beam is a stream of high-energy electrons propelled from an electron gun, a larger version the the an equipment in the earlier of a TV tube the propels electrons right into the screen. This electron beam generator is simply switched on and off and does not involve radioactivity. Shielding is vital to defend workers native the electron beam yet not in the type of the enormous concrete walls forced to save on computer gamma rays. The electrons have the right to penetrate food to a depth of just 3 centimeters, however two the opposite beams can treat food the is double as thick. Electron beam clinical sterilizers have been in operation for the past 15 years.

The latest an innovation is x-ray irradiation, i beg your pardon employs a an ext powerful version of the x-ray equipments used in hospitals and dental offices. A beam of electrons is command at a thin plate of yellow or various other metal, producing a stream of x-rays that come out the various other side. X-rays can pass through thick foods and require hefty shielding for safety. The maker can it is in switched on and also off and also does no involve radiation substances. Because 1996, the people has seen 4 commercial x-ray irradiation units. The radiation dose varies depending on the form of food. According to the environmental Protection Agency, the limit is less than 10 kiloGray for most foods. The FDA sets radiation dose borders for particular food types, such as 1 kiloGray because that fruit, 3 kiloGray because that poultry, and also 30 kiloGray because that spices and also seasonings.

Overcoming customer Confusion “I think the biggest obstacle for food irradiation is lack of customer understanding of what irradiation is. Probably it was an unfortunate selection of names for this technology, as people have the impression the there is a nuclear resource making their food radioactive,” claims Prakash.

Samuel S. Epstein, MD, professor emeritus that environmental and occupational medication at the college of Illinois school of publicly Health and also chairman of the Cancer prevention Coalition, says consumers merely don’t recognize enough about food irradiation in general. After ~ all, it’s no a topic civilization typically read around in their favorite glossy magazine. The global Food info Council learned media coverage the food irradiation native January 1, 2004, to February 29, 2004, and also discovered that the full amount that media coverage was a just 35 stories.

Food irradiation, also known as cold pasteurization, is no a new technology. The idea of utilizing irradiation to destroy microorganisms in food might have emerged as early as 1895, soon after radioactivity to be discovered, according to researchers from the college of Texas college of windy Health. In 1963, the FDA authorized irradiation to control insects in wheat and also wheat flour and has learned food irradiation’s impacts for more than 40 years. About 40 countries use the technology, and also many organizations, including the CDC, the civilization Health company (WHO), the USDA, the FDA, the American Dietetic Association, and also the American clinical Association, endorse it. Yet, customer acceptance that food irradiation has actually been elusive, consumer advocacy groups fight the technology, and also its usage in the United states is minimal.

Opponents and also environmental and also consumer advocacy groups have stepped front with cases that food irradiation poses safety concerns, affects food quality, reasons nutrient loss, and threatens the environment. “The effects of an unfavorable activist teams is fairly strong. World hear points from activist organizations, and also it to reduce the customer acceptance a lot,” states Prakash, who points out that some studies have discovered that consumers space willing to pay for irradiated food products once the benefits have been fully explained to them. A 1995-1996 university of California, Davis study found that after ~ consumers perceived a 10-minute informational video on irradiation, their attention in purchase irradiated foods increased native 57% come 82%.

Irradiation in the Food Supply Food irradiation is getting much more attention in irradiate of the august 22, 2008, FDA last rule permitting irradiation of fresh iceberg lettuce and also spinach in both loose and bagged forms. The FDA reported that irradiating new iceberg lettuce and also spinach will aid protect consumer from disease-causing bacteria such together Salmonella and also E. Coli O157:H7. In addition, irradiating fresh iceberg lettuce and also fresh spinach will certainly lengthen your time come spoiling.

The FDA ruling adds iceberg lettuce and also spinach come a list of other foodstuffs that are permitted to it is in irradiated to manage bacteria and also prolong freshness, including wheat flour, fruit, potatoes, red meat, poultry, and also spices (see Table 1). Yet currently, the volume that food being irradiated in the United states is low. Prakash reports the these foodstuffs include around 1% to 2% of floor beef, part dried spices and herbs, fruit from Hawaii such as star fruit and also papaya, and also strawberries indigenous Florida.

One detractor from much more widespread usage of irradiation is cost. “The expense depends on just how much is treated and also at what dose. The higher the volume, the reduced the cost due to efficiencies the scale. The additional cost for irradiation might be 3 to 10 cents per pound,” says Prakash.

In addition, there space a minimal number the irradiation infrastructure available, adding yet another chink in the chain of food processing. “There space not too many facilities the can process produce. Over there may need to be various scenarios such as portable technology or systems in big facilities that have the right to be component of the food processing. The is likely perfect for foodservice,” note Prakash.

Looking to the brand The FDA regulates resources of irradiation the same way that that regulates food additives; thus, they call for approval prior to being permitted for use on the market. Irradiation is voluntary, and also the FDA requires that treated foods bear the Radura logo together with the statement “treated v radiation” or “treated by irradiation.” Irradiation labeling does not use to restaurant foods, and also organic foodstuffs can no be irradiated.

In 2007, the FDA proposed revising its labeling regulation for foods approved for irradiation. According to customer Affairs, under the proposed new rule, just irradiated foods items in i m sorry the irradiation reasons a material change in the food’s molecular framework would should be labeled with the Radura logo, which is currently required of every irradiated food. In addition, the FDA would permit the state electronically pasteurized or cold pasteurized in lieu that irradiated if notified that the irradiation process being provided met the criteria stated for utilizing the term pasteurized.

Some claim that this proposed judgment would weaken the irradiation labeling laws. Epstein says, “Due to strong industry pressure, the FDA is attempting to eliminate irradiation for the ax ‘electronically pasteurized.’ If this euphemism is successfully used, it limits the public’s tardy of foodstuffs being irradiated.” The center for scientific research in the public Interest reports that, follow to polls, consumers want clear information about whether their foods have been irradiated.

How safe Is Food Irradiation? many leading wellness organizations have actually deemed food irradiation safe, likening it come the pasteurization that milk and also pressure cooking of canned foods, procedures that kill harmful bacteria and parasites. Even astronauts space fed irradiated food to avoid food-borne disease while in space. In a may 2008 review released in Critical evaluate in Food Science and Nutrition, researchers from the college of Arkansas reported that an ext than 100 years of food irradiation research has actually demonstrated that it would certainly make food safer and also improve shelf life. Despite the CDC reports a far-ranging drop in the variety of food-borne illnesses, contaminated food still causes too plenty of sicknesses and deaths. The researchers concluded that brand-new and underutilized innovations such as food irradiation must be reexamined to boost the safety and security of the food supply.

Yet, some critics point out that the safety of this an innovation may no be crystal clear, expressing concern around carcinogens, radiolytic compounds, and also furans. “There space a wide variety of independent researches done in the mid- to late 1980s that established mutagenic and also carcinogenic compounds. In irradiated meat, there is a tenfold boost in the carcinogen benzene 보다 in cook beef,” claims Epstein. According to Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD, a columnist and Food and culture Policy fellow who newly wrote a column on food irradiation in the Columbia everyday Tribune and also for the Rodale Institute, “Valid concerns have been voiced around the production of complimentary radicals or the formation of other potentially harmful compounds throughout the radiation process.” some experts think that us don’t have any type of long-term studies of populations eating significant amounts that irradiated food to make conclusions.

“Irradiation walk not create compounds that room mutagenic. There are extensive toxicological research studies performed, and there is no evidence that there room mutagens or carcinogens formed due to the fact that of irradiation. The WHO and the FDA have rejected the idea the irradiation produces mutagenic or carcinogenic compounds,” states Prakash. “The activist organizations insurance claim that radiation forms distinctive radiolytic compounds. One form of radiolytic compound is 2-ACB <2-alkylcyclobutanone> that have the right to be created in tiny amounts in fat-containing foods, and it bring away high level of irradiation to perform that. Other compounds bandied about are furans. These are produced in foodstuffs containing sugar and also acid, such together fruit juice. If friend irradiate pineapple juice, you gain increased furans but not as much as girlfriend get throughout heat processing. Furans, in general, room a concern in food, and it’s an concern with the FDA, yet in irradiated foods, furans are produced in little amounts.” proof does indicate that 2-ACB and also furans space carcinogenic. Irradiated food is regularly treated in packaging, raising the concern of even if it is the technology affects packaging and transfers toxins to food. According to Prakash, this is a legitimate security concern. She reports that the FDA has actually evaluated and approved the usage of these plastics because that irradiation, but extr research demands to discover what happens when chemicals move from plastics into food throughout irradiation.

Quality Is King The nutritional and sensory quality of irradiated foods items is a warm topic. The Organic consumers Association posits that irradiated fruits and vegetables benefit the packer and also grocer, no the farmer or consumer, because the customer receives an worse product that shows up fresh yet has depleted vitamins and also enzymes. Some customer reports have actually discovered transformed taste and texture perceptions through irradiated foods.

According come the CDC, irradiation walk not adjust a food’s nutritional value. The high-energy beam is took in as that passes with the food and also gives up its energy. The food is slightly warmed and also may taste slightly different after irradiation. At levels approved for use on foods, level of thiamin room slightly reduced. In a 2007 Journal the Food Protection study, researchers uncovered that the results of irradiation top top the top quality of frozen peas and corn resulted in a reduction in ascorbic acid and also texture but had no impact on the vegetables’ color, carotinoid content, or antioxidant capacity.

“Quality that food is related to dose of irradiation. The takes a very high sheep to see damage to quality. At levels that damage E. Coli and Salmonella, over there is no impact on quality. In general, vitamin loss during food irradiation transforms out come be much less than with heat processing. It depends on sheep levels we use,” states Prakash. “When it concerns destroying enzyme in food, warmth kills enzymes, too. That takes an extremely high level of irradiation to death enzymes. The doses supplied for fruits and also vegetables perform not produce much effect on enzymes.” Environmental problems go food irradiation pose an eco-friendly threat? The atom Regulatory board of directors oversees framework that usage radioactive sources, and also these framework must demonstrate tight fail-safe measures, extensive and well-documented safety procedures, and also worker training. The branch that the FDA the regulates medical x-ray devices monitors electron beam and also x-ray sources. No occasions have been documented that led to exposing the populace to radioactivity. Food irradiation infrastructure do not come to be radioactive and do not create radioactive waste. Cobalt-60 decays by about 50% in 5 years, in ~ which time they have the right to be recharged for further use; cesium-137 decays by about 50% in 30 years. Electron beams and also x-ray framework do not involve radiation substances.

A larger ecological argument pertains to irradiation’s function in food safety. The center for science in the public Interest comment to the FDA ruling on spinach and lettuce through saying the food irradiation need to not it is in mistaken because that a cure-all and suggested that the FDA embrace preventive measures starting at the farm yard level to regulate food-borne pathogens.

Hemmelgarn listed in her obelisk that “we have to question the larger food system responsible for extensive food-borne disease outbreaks. Irradiation is not a instead of for great agricultural and manufacturing methods or proper handling in ~ home. To acquire to the root of the problem, we need to understand exactly how ground beef, lettuce, spinach, peppers, and also tomatoes end up being contaminated v Salmonella and also E. Coli in the first place. It is the ideology behind HACCP, or hazard analysis and vital control point, regulation. HACCP guidelines call for tracking potential hazards and points of air pollution throughout the entire food system, and correcting troubles at the source. Since both Salmonella and E. Coli are found in animal feces, investigators look at an essential points that contamination, including irrigation water, proximity of crops to feedlots, slaughterhouse conditions, and also farm-worker sanitation.”

Epstein adds, “When you put cattle into feed lots and also feed castle grain, they convert E. Coli to E. Coli O157:H7, which is responsible for food poisoning. You could completely eliminate the inquiry of food poisoning by taking cows the end of feed lots and giving lock grass a mainly or so before slaughter. In vegetables, contamination comes from runoff from feed lot facilities.”

The Bottom heat ... Because that Now Irradiated foods items should be stored, handled, and also cooked in the same way as foodstuffs that have not to be irradiated. Lock may have a longer shelf life due to the fact that they have fewer microbes, including those that cause spoilage. Prakash says, “If over there is high bacterial content and also a negative quality product, irradiation won’t resolve the problem. The cold chain and an excellent manufacturing practices should be followed. Over there is no benefit to begin with a bad quality product.

“We have actually a pretty safe food supply, yet we procedure a huge volume of food and we have actually a central food supply,” she adds. “Chances that outbreaks room continually going come exist. I totally support the regional movement, but people are still walking to gain lettuce from California in Boston throughout the winter. Irradiation is an additional tool to help make ours food safer.

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These products shipped through circulation would be benefited through irradiation.”

— Sharon Palmer, RD, is a contributing editor at Today’s Dietitian and a freelance food and nutrition writer in southern California.