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Is Irradiated Food Safe?

Irradiation can kill harmful bacteria and keep food from spoiling. But opponents worry about the safety of irradiated food. A closer look at the pros and cons of food irradiation.

By
Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.N,
Episode #122

Which Foods are Likely to Be Irradiated?

With a few exceptions, irradiation is not widely used in the U.S. Most dried herbs and spices are now irradiated—however, this means that they are much less likely to be chemically treated to prevent pests. Other foods approved for treatment with irradiation include fresh meat, poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables, and wheat flour.

How Can You Avoid Irradiated Food?

Current labeling laws require that foods that have been irradiated must be labeled as “irradiated” or “treated with irradiation” either on the package itself or in the case of foods that are sold in bulk, like produce, on the accompanying displays. You’ll usually also see the international symbol for irradiation, a circular emblem with a plant in the center. Irradiated meats that are used as ingredients in other products, such as sausages, must be identified as irradiated on the ingredient list.

However, there are some cases where irradiated food will not be identified. Restaurants, delis, and other food service operators are not required to notify you that they’re using irradiated ingredients, for example. And even though the spices in packaged foods are almost certainly irradiated, you won’t see the irradiation symbol on those packages.

One simple way to avoid irradiated food is to buy organic foods. Organic standards do not permit the use of irradiation.   But whether you go out of your way to buy irradiated foods or go out of your way to avoid them, it’s still necessary to wash fruits and vegetables and observe safe handling procedures like keeping foods chilled and heating them to proper temperatures.

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If you have a comment or question about this article or a suggestion for a future topic post it below or send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com. You can also post comments and questions on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page.  I answer a lot of listener questions in my free weekly newsletter, so if you’ve sent a question my way, be sure you’re signed up to receive that.

RESOURCES: 

Facts about Food irradiation (University of Wisconsin)

The Case Against Irradiation (Organic Consumers Association)

The Food Irradiation Food Fight (USNews.com)

Irradiation and Food Safety FAQ (FDA)

Food Safety and Irradiation (CDC)

Frozen Peas image courtesy of Shutterstock

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