Food irradiation is a technique used to kill insects and harmful bacteria in food. Irradiation can also be used to slow down the ripening of food and stop food from sprouting to extend its shelf life.
How does irradiation work?
Food is irradiated by exposing it to ionising radiation. The ionising radiation can be either gamma rays produced by a radioactive source, X-rays produced by an X-ray tube, or electron beams produced by an electron accelerator. The ionising radiation destroys any insects and harmful bacteria in the food.
What food gets irradiated?
Before foods can be irradiated they must be approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Certain fruit, vegetables, herbs, and spices have been approved for food irradiation. Any food that has been irradiated, or contains irradiated ingredients, must be labelled that it has been treated with ionising radiation when sold. If the food is not normally labelled (e.g. fresh fruit and vegetables) then labelling must be displayed close to the food.
Is it safe to eat?
Food irradiation has been studied by many organisations worldwide and found to be safe. Food irradiation has been approved by many food safety agencies including Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration , and the European Food Safety Authority and has been used commercially for over 50 years worldwide.
Does it make food radioactive?
Food irradiation cannot make food radioactive. The ionising radiation passes through the food without inducing any radioactivity in it. The food also never comes into contact with any radioactive sources so cannot become contaminated.
Does it change the taste?
Food irradiation is regulated by the Food Standards Code published by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. At the levels of irradiation allowed there is no change in the taste, texture, or appearance of the food.