Why is there a Need for Irradiation of Food?

(From: The American Dietetic Association Position: Food irradiation, and USDA's Food Irradiation Overview)

Although the US food supply has achieved a high level of safety, microbiological hazards exist. Because foods may contain pathogens, mishandling, including improper cooking, can result in foodborne illness. About 6.5 to 33 million cases of foodborne illness are estimated to occur annually in the United States; about 9,000 of these result in death (1). Recent outbreaks of illness and death caused by Escherichia coli O157:H7 have focused attention on this emerging pathogen, which is estimated to affect 7,000 to 20,000 Americans yearly at a cost of $174.3 to $467.7 million (2). Irradiation has been identified as one solution that enhances food safety through the reduction of potential pathogens and has been recommended as part of a comprehensive program to enhance food safety (3-6).

Food irradiation has several purposes. It preserves food, such as seafood, meats, fruits and vegetables, cereal grains, and legumes; offers greater food safety because it can reduce the levels of bacteria, parasites, insects, yeasts, and molds in foods or completely decontaminate foods of these organisms; controls maturation and sprouting in fresh fruits and vegetables; and replaces chemical fumigation as a method of preservation and pest control.


Prepared Summer 1997 by Bernadene Magnuson, Ph.D.
University of Idaho, Dept. of Food Science and Toxicology - EXTOXNET FAQ Team.