Thursday, August 21, 2008

FDA OKs Use of Radiation to Kill Germs in some Veggies

On Friday the FDA is expected to issue new regulations regarding the use of radiation on lettuce and spinach to kill microorganisms such as e-coli, salmonella, and listeria. Irradiation of food, also controversially known as "cold pasteurization", has been in use since the 1960's as a way to control germs, as well as insects in food. The process was first invented in 1905. From 1953 to 1980, the government sponsored the National Food Irradiation Program, which did many research projects on the use of irradiation in food. Critics of the procedure say that the longest study of people eating irradiated food was 15 weeks, and no long term studies have been performed on the effects this may have in humans. They also say that irradiating food is an easy way to cover up sloppiness in the harvest and production of foods that create situations where contamination can occur in the first place. Another worry is that important vitamins and nutrients are destroyed in the process. Furthermore, critics worry about food becoming radioactive itsself. The FDA maintains that the food does not retain any actual radiation after the procedure. However, a statement on food irradiation on the Environental Protection Agency's website said the following:

Can irradiation make food radioactive?

No. Food does not come in contact with radioactive material during food irradiation, and cannot be contaminated this way. Radiation that is too energetic, however, can disrupt the energy balance in the nuclei of food atoms, making them unstable (radioactive). This is known as induced radioactivity.

Electron and x-ray beams can be energetic enough to induce radioactivity. To prevent induced radioactivity, FDA limits the energy of the radiation from these sources to less than 4 mega-electron volts. Radiation from cobalt-60 sources is not energetic enough to induce radioactivity.

Food that is treated with irradiation is required to be labeled with the international symbol of irradiated food, the "Radura" pictured above. It is also required to have the words "Treated with Radiation" or "Treated with Irradiation".

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