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CSA Tech Bulletin - Spring 2003 CSA Home

Food Irradiation
...Industry's Answer to a Safer Food Supply

Food Irradiation is a well-researched method of treating food in order to make it safer to eat and longer lasting. This bulletin has been sponsored by the Canadian Spice Association to help clarify some of the mystery of Food Irradiation and to help you understand its relationship to food quality.

What is Food Irradiation?
Food Irradiation is a physical means of food treatment comparable to heat pasteurization, canning or freezing. The process involves exposing the food for a specified time to high energy gamma rays. The source of this energy may be electronic beam, x-ray, or more commonly, cobalt60.

The energy from these rays is sufficient to cause ionization; which is defined as any form of radiation with sufficient energy to dislodge electrons to create ions, but not enough to induce radioactivity in the product. It is this ionizing energy that destroys harmful bacteria.

Many people ask, "Will the food become radioactive or be altered when treated with an irradiation process?". and some have even made the mistake of ignoring virtually forty years of food science research that shows conclusively that:

Irradiated products do not become radioactive after treatment.

Irradiation can kill foodborne bacteria, molds, yeasts, insects and parasitic organisms without the use of toxic chemicals or elevated temperatures.

Irradiation will not introduce changes in the composition of food products or affect in a negative way the nutritional value of the treated foods. Irradiation is the cleanest and safest method of food processing available to mankind today... yet it is the least used... Why?

FACT: The U.S. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology has estimated that foodborne diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria such as Campylobacter escherichia coli 0157:h7, Listeria monocyiogenes, Salmonella and Staphyloccus aureus may cause as many as 9,000 deaths and up to 33 million causes of diarreal disease (food poisoning) each year, in the United States. The annual economic losses in the USA associated with this foodborne disease may be as high as $5 to $6 billion! Although the Science Council of Canada do not track these statistics, it accepts the probability that Canada's costs are proportional to the population ratio of approximately 11% compared to the United States.

Food Items Currently Irradiated in Countries Around the World

Various flours
Frog legs
Various fish
Pickle products
Various grains
Cocoa beans
Minced meats


International Regulatory Agencies & Associations that have Approved or Recommend the Use of Irradiation:

Health Canada (includes Dept. of Agriculture)
Science Council of Canada
Canadian & US Institute of Food Tech. (CIFST, IFT)
World Health Organization (WHO)
United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO)
US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
US Food & Drug Administration (USFDA)
American Medical Association (AMA)
American Meat Institute (AMI)
Mayo Clinic
Codex Alimentarius Commission
American Spice Trade Association (ASTA)
American Council on Science & Health (USACSH)
US Council for Agricultural Science & Technology (CAST)


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why is food Irradiated? Q. Are irradiated foods still nutritious? Q. Does Irradiation make food radioactive?

A. Food irradiation destroys harmful bacteria that cause illnesses and kills insect pests on produce, eliminating the need for chemical fumigation after harvest. Irradiation also helps food keep longer and in better condition in warehouses and homes.

As with any food, consumers must take appropriate precautions, such as refrigeration and proper handling and cooking, to make sure that potentially harmful organisms do not present a problem.

A. Yes. Irradiated foods are wholesome and nutritious. All known methods of food processing - and even storing food at room temperature for a few hours after harvesting - can lower the content of some nutrients, such as vitamins. At low doses of radiation, nutrient losses are either not measurable or, if they can be measured, are not significant. At the higher doses used to extend shelf-life or control harmful bacteria, nutritional losses are less than or about the same as cooking and freezing. A. No. Radioactivity in foods can occur by two routes: contamination of foods with radioactive substances or by penetration of energy into the nuclei of the atoms that make up the food. The irradiation process involves passing food through an irradiation field; however, the food itself never contacts a radioactive substance. Also, the ionizing radiation used by irradiators is not strong enough to disintegrate the nucleus of even one atom of a food molecule.
Q. Does eating irradiated food present long-term health risks? Q. For what other purposes is irradiation technology now used in Canada? Q. Are irradiated foods on the market now?

A. No. Federal government and other scientists reviewed several hundred studies on the effects of food irradiation before reaching conclusions about the general safety of the treatment. independent scientific committees in Denmark, Sweden, United Kingdom and Canada also have reaffirmed the safety of food irradiation. in addition, food irradiation has received official international endorsement from the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

A. Irradiation is used for many purposes including: performing security checks on hand luggage at airports, making tires more durable, sterilizing manure for gardens, making non-stick cookware coatings, purifying wool, sterilizing medical products like surgical gloves, and destroying bacteria in cosmetics. A. Irradiation of food has been approved in 38 countries for more than 40 products. The largest marketers of irradiated food are Belgium (since 1981), and France (since 1986). each country irradiates about 10,000 tons of food per year. The Netherlands started irradiation in 1978 and today processes about 20,000 tons per year.

Historic Perspective

Irradiation of potatoes to control sprouting and extend shelf-life was first approved for use in Canada on June 14, 1963. Since then, thirty-eight other countries have approved irradiation as a safe and clean process for the treatment of a wide range of food substances.

Today in North America, approximately 60 million pounds of spices, herbs and dried seasonings are treated annually.

Irradiation of spices, pork, poultry, fruit, vegetables, seafood, flour for human use and animal feed are all approved in the United States. Petitions to permit the treatment of frozen and unfrozen red meat are pending. In Canada, the list of approved food substances is much shorter and limited to potatoes, vegetables, spices, herbs and dried seasonings. Before other items can be treated, a written petition must be prepared and submitted to the Health Protection Branch of Health & Welfare Canada. This lengthy process is why food irradiation does not have a broader use in Canada to date.


Quick Facts

Irradiation safely reduces existing bacteria & molds

No chemical used - no chemical residue

Irradiated food is eaten by astronauts

Irradiated food is eaten in hospitals by patients with immune response deficiencies

38 countries around the world currently use food irradiation

500,000 tons of food was irradiated last year worldwide

Irradiation is used to sterilize the majority of medical disposable devices

Food irradiation has been the subject of intense research for more than 40 years


The Radura Insert

As a consumer, we should look for this new symbol of quality in food processing... the Radura insert... and expect higher quality standards from the food processing industry.

The Canadian Spice Association endorses the current methods of treatment, including irradiation, ethylene oxide, steam, and methyl bromide (where government regulations permit) to reduce disease causing bacteria and fungi on foods and spices.

Canadian law requires all food products intended for human use that have been irradiated to be labeled with this flower-like radura logo (above). For situations where processing of whole foods is not obvious, the label must also read "Treated with Irradiation". Bulk or retail spices, herbs or ingredients that have been treated must be labeled with the Radura logo. However, when these ingredients are added to mixtures, processed meats and finished products, and do not exceed 10% by weight or volume, the labelling requirement no longer applies.


Process Centres

There are two gamma irradiators currently operating in Canada.

Isomedix is Canada's main commercial service centre and is located in Whitby, Ontario. Nordion, a research and training facility, is located in Ville de Laval, Quebec. For further information on food irradiation, please contact either of the following:

Nordion International Inc.
447 March Road
Kanata, ON   K2K 1X8
Tel: (613) 592-2790
Fax: (613) 592-6937

Mr. Joe Borsa, or
Mr. Peter Kunstadt, P.Eng.

Isomedix Corporation
184 Crown Court
Whitby, ON   L1N 7B1
Tel: (905) 433-1202
Fax: (905) 433-2419

Mr. Bruce Zagrodney, M.B.A., P.Eng., or
Mr. Dave Pearse

For copies of this brochure, please forward written requests to:

The Canadian Spice Association
438 University Avenue, Suite 1618
Toronto, ON   M5G 2K8


Web www.CanadianSpiceAssociation.com

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