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Food irradiation – is it OK?

In Australia there are no laws requiring manufacturers to indicate when food has been irradiated. In the US, all irradiated foods must be labelled.

Food irradiation is a process where foods are subject to a powerful gamma ray. This has the effect of killing organisms that are responsible for spoiling foods – such as insects, moulds and bacteria, and some bacteria responsible for food poisoning (although not viruses).

It is used in place of a preservative for some foods. Irradiation can impact on the taste and structure of foods, such as diary and eggs, but for the most part is undetectable. The process can reduce the vitamin quality of foods, especially the B group vitamins, although there are claims that this is no different to other forms of food preserving.

There are several consumer concerns about food irradiation that we can all be aware of. We do not ask for our food to be irradiated and we are not told when it is. There are concerns about residual radiation left in foods and how irradiation impacts on safe food handling practices as irradiation eliminates some of the signs that would normally tell us when a food has spoiled, and protect us from food poisoning.

Advocates of food irradiation claim that it reduces the need for bad food additives in our food. Food irradiation may have its place, but consumers are entitled to full information about when and where it is used and research needs to adopt a long term view. Read more

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Lindy Schneider is a writer and researcher with a keen interest in health, wellbeing and natural childcare. She is an advocator of a chemical-free lifestyle in the best interests of her family, the community and a sustainable world. She lives in the Yarra Valley with her partner and two young children.

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