Food irradiation is a process of purifying foods. This food safety procedure utilizes radiation to eliminate harmful things such as viruses, insects, and parasites from edible products. The process is conducted in many countries around the globe, although regulations tend to vary.
The process of food irradiation is sometimes compared to other food safety measures such as pasteurization and pressure cooking. Food irradiation is generally conducted by using gamma rays, electron beams, or x-rays. When food products are exposed to such radiation, unwanted matter can be killed.
Overall, the amount of unwanted matter that is destroyed by food irradiation varies. If the amount of radiation that is used is too low, only a portion of viruses, bacteria, and the like will be killed. In some cases, one unwanted element, such as insects, may be eliminated with a low dose of radiation while another, such as a virus, is not. Increasing the dosage of radiation, however, can result in the successful elimination of all of the unwanted elements.
The benefits of food irradiation can extend beyond eliminating unwanted substances. As a result of this process, the shelf-life of different foods is often significantly extended. Ripening can also be delayed, which can reduce the amount of waste and make shipping easier.
Food irradiation has been endorsed by credible entities such as the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF), and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There is, however, a great deal of debate over the topic. Those who endorse the technique often admit that food that has been irradiated may taste slightly different. Many critics note that the process involves many more negatives. For example, they claim that food irradiation results in consumers taking in less nutritious food.
Critics claim irradiated food is less nutritious because certain components are broken down during the process. These include vitamins and enzymes. This means that people have to consume a greater quantity of food to get the needed nutrition. It also means that the digestive system must work harder to process the foods that are ingested.
Some critics are wholly against food irradiation for this reason. Others believe that the types and amounts of nutritional losses should be noted on food labels. Supporters such as the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), however, say that food may be slightly warmed during the process but claim that the nutritional value is not changed.
Another reason that critics say they are concerned is because the long-term effects that irradiated food will have on human health are unknown. They claim that it has not been studied thoroughly enough to draw a solid conclusion. There are also claims that irradiation can result in the creation of toxins in the processed food. Once again, supporters such as the CDC, claim that extensive studies have been conducted and the process is harmless.