Irradiation, or "electronic pasteurization," exposes food to a radiant source of energy, such as gamma rays or electron beams, for a brief period of time. Irradiation is a "cold" process that produces little heat, so food can remain packaged throughout the process—and until opened by the consumer. Irradiation decreases or eliminates harmful bacteria, insects, and parasites. It does not make a food radioactive, and it is allowed in nearly forty countries (including the United States, France, Israel, Russia, and China). It is also endorsed by many agencies, including the World Health Organization. Food Irradiation is not without controversy, however, and many consumer groups and organic farming organizations oppose it, believing that it can alter the cellular structure of foods and cause the production of free radicals. Other hazards cited by critics include the partial destruction of vitamins in irradiated foods, the destruction of beneficial bacteria as well as harmful bacteria, and the environmental hazard of nuclear irradiation facilities.
A logo called the "radura" is used internationally to indicate that the food has been irradiated, though some have suggested that this symbol is too benign to accurately represent the irradiation process, and that it is too similar to the symbol of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
M. Elizabeth Kunkel Barbara H. D. Luccia
Institute of Food Technologists' Expert Panel on Food Safety and Nutrition (1998). Scientific Status Summary: Irradiation of Food. Chicago, IL: Author.
Satin, Morton (1996). Food Irradiation: A Guidebook, 2nd edition. Lancaster, PA: Technomic Publishing.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Available from <http://www.fsis.usda.gov>