The process implies applying ionized radiation to foods with the purpose in mind of safety and preservation. The studies have a long history to look across, ranging between 30 and 40 years’ worth of research on the potential advantages and disadvantages of food irradiation. As far as irradiated food goes, some believe there are still dangers while others often underline the benefits and innovative technology that could ultimately help the population.

Major organizations around the world, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), and U.S. based agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have approved irradiated food for consumption. It has become a symbol of hope in the battle against foodborne illnesses, but like all symbols, it can have a different, much darker meaning.

irradiated food - a sad pineapple

The Pros

90% Food Safety

When the food is irradiated, the radiation breaks the bonds in DNA molecules, which can be a beneficial effect in the case of diseases. It has been shown to eliminate 90% of the potentially disease-riddled organisms that could cause harm to human health, such as E. coli, listeria, and salmonella. In a world that is still struggling with the control of foodborne illnesses, irradiation plays a crucial role.

Due to its safety, irradiated food is exceptionally helpful for people with immune deficiencies who do not have the ability to battle the most basic contaminants. This is especially the case for patients with AIDS or those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

Improved Shelf Life

Due to the ability to destroy inactive organisms that ultimately cause spoilage and decomposition, irradiation has the added benefit of keeping products fresh for a longer time. It successfully inhibits sprouting and delays the ripening of fruits. For example, it has been shown that irradiated strawberries live seven days longer than their counterparts.

However, keep in mind that it cannot “save” spoiled food. It cannot reverse the spoilage process, and if it tastes, smells, and looks bad, nothing can save it, including irradiation.

Keeps The Insects Away

It not only kills bacteria, parasites, and viruses, but it can also eliminate the bugs hiding in tropical foods imported from exotic countries. It’s a fairly advantageous benefit that adds more to the point of safety. Irradiation has also been shown to destroy the pest-control chemicals some products are laced with. Not to mention that post-process, it makes the food less attractive to moths or other infestations that could be hazardous to our health.

It Leaves the Nutritional Value Intact

In spite of claims that food irradiation damages the nutritional values of products by lowering the number of vitamins they hold in their composition, the opposite has been shown. In fact, the only alteration it causes is lowering thiamine levels, but it’s not enough to result in a vitamin deficiency for the consumer.

Does Not Contain Radiation

Irradiation by gamma rays, X-rays, or accelerated electrons does not linger in our food, as found in a study researching the process. Under controlled circumstances, it will not make our meals radioactive, and it will not pose a risk if you consume it.

The Cons

The Remaining 10%

Unfortunately, food irradiation is not equal to sterilization. It does not have the ability to eliminate all the bacteria and make products 100% safe. It’s an important tool against foodborne illnesses, but it should not be considered a substitute for proper food safety regulations or measures. Microorganisms can slip through, especially viruses or prions, which could cause conditions such as Mad Cow Disease.

Changes in Texture And Taste

The nutritional values may remain the same, but irradiated food can taste a little different. For example, it could make tomatoes a little mushy and soft and turn beef meat into something entirely unappealing to smell.

It Raises Prices

Irradiated food does cost more due to the added process. This practice will continue with its growing popularity, and might head to a point where it becomes ultimately less affordable to the population. In estimation, the costs are increased by 2-3 cents/pound for vegetables and fruits, and 3-5 cents/pound for meat products.

No Scientific Proof That It’s Healthy In The Long Run

In spite of the fact that it has been shown to eliminate numerous dangerous microorganisms, there is no proof that it’s safe for humans in the long run. In fact, a study conducted by the Organic Consumers Association claims that there’s no evidence to support the long-term benefits of irradiated food. On the other hand, it has been shown to cause abnormalities, rare cancers, or even premature death in animals around 60 years ago.

It’s Not the Best Solution

Irradiation is considered nothing but a flimsy band-aid on the world’s problems regarding our food system. It’s not something that will fix it, and some might use it as an excuse, albeit an inadequate one, to forgo other major issues. This includes unsanitary and unsafe conditions at factory farms, slaughterhouses, inhumane behavior toward animals, and other problems that are the actual cause of contaminations.

In essence, irradiated food does arrive with many benefits, and many believe the practice should certainly continue. Time and technological advancements could fix a majority of the issues. However, it should be remembered that it cannot resolve all of them. There are still problems in the food industry that just one process can fix.

And, for the good of the population, safety, and sustainability of global supplies, they should be solved. In that respect, food irradiation is not a necessity, but a tool, and it should be treated as such.