What Are the Pros and Cons of Food Irradiation?

Food irradiation reduces the number of pests, molds, parasites and bacteria on many foods, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, but the Organic Consumers Association points out that irradiating food does not make it completely safe from organisms such as viruses and prions. According to the CDC, irradiation also prevents food spoilage and foodborne illness.

As the name implies, irradiated foods are treated with radiation. According to the CDC, only three sources of radiation are permitted, which include gamma rays, electron beams and X-rays. These rays damage DNA, effectively killing bacteria and parasites. Although these rays destroy microbes, the CDC maintains that irradiation does not make foods dangerous. In fact, irradiated foods have already been eaten by NASA astronauts without ill effects.

However, irradiated foods may cost more in stores, according to the Organic Consumers Association. In addition, irradiation is not appropriate for all types of food. According to the CDC, foods such as seafood and shelled eggs are inappropriate for irradiation.

Consumers have a choice whether to purchase irradiated foods. The Food and Drug Administration requires manufacturers to label irradiated food with a Radura symbol and a statement saying “treated with radiation” or “treated by irradiation.” However, the FDA explains that this labeling is not required on multi-ingredient foods.