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Is Irradiated Food Safe?

While grocery shopping, I saw that some foods are labeled with the below symbol and say “Treated with radiation.” That does not sound safe to eat! Is it?

Is Irradiated Food Safe?

The short answer: Yes!

The explanation: The irradiation of foods has been deemed safe not only by the FDA, USDA, and CDC, but also by the World Health Organization (WHO), and NASA – whose astronauts eat irradiated meat when in space to avoid getting foodborne illness.

The fear of irradiated foods is often that the food will become radioactive or expose the consumer to radiation. But this is not how it works. With any of the three approved methods (x-ray, gamma radiation, and electron beam), the beams pass through the food in the same way X-ray beams pass through people when getting a medical X-ray or going through a TSA checkpoint, leaving no trace.

Irradiation is used primarily to kill insects on or in food (particularly imported fruits); prevent or kill bacteria that cause foodborne illness (e.g., Salmonella, E. coli, etc.); and reduce spoilage to extend a food’s shelf life. It is of particular use when other methods (e.g., pasteurization, cooking, freezing) would affect the quality of the food.

While consumers should have no fear of eating foods that have been irradiated, to ensure full transparency to consumers, FDA requires that irradiation be disclosed on the food label. The label will have the Radura symbol (above) and one of two statements: “Treated with radiation” or “Treated by irradiation.”  Fruits and vegetables must also be labeled or have a label on signage where displayed.

Sources: FDA, CDC


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