5 Things You Should Know About Food Irradiation

Food Irradiation

What happens to your food before it hits your kitchen table?

When you buy a pre-owned car, you can get a vehicle history report that shows the accident history, safety recalls and previous repairs, but when you purchase fresh produce from a grocery store you get – nothing.

You can choose organic, but you cannot differentiate between conventional or GMO with the naked eye. While you may be told the country of origin, it’s more difficult to find out the actual location of the farm or even any info on the farmer and his practices. You can’t physically see if your food has undergone radiation, has been sprayed with chemicals or if your apple was picked 1 year ago. 

While it eases our mind to imagine that all of our food supply being organically raised with no chemicals, coming from happy farmers. In reality – our food is not just ‘plucked’ from the ground, vine, or tree and then gently placed on your local supermarket shelf in the same day. There are many added processes which are preformed to our food, which in so many ways not only degrades how natural our food should be, but it affects the nutrition within. 

Along with other processes, a lot of our food has been exposed to radiation and you may not even be aware of it.

Food irradiation, which entails exposing our food to ionizing radiation through the use of gamma rays, X-rays or electron beam radiation. Irradiation is a practice which was designed to ‘improve the safety and extend the shelf life’ of foods. Just as we pasteurize milk and sterilize meat, irradiation is used to prevent food borne illness, control insects, delay sprouting and ripening and can even be used to sterilize our food.

While these practices are monitored and approved by the FDA in the United States and by Health Canada in Canada – just because something works, doesn’t mean it’s right.

Potatoes, garlic and onions are just a few examples of vegetables which naturally sprout a few weeks after purchasing – and this is normal. Your food is a living thing, your food contains raw vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes it’s ability to sprout is in it’s effort to create new life.

While there truly was some logic to adding processes like irradiation to our food supply and there is even some understanding behind why we would attempt to genetically modify our food, again – just because we have the ability to do something, does not make it right.

The real problem here isn’t that our world is trying to advance and utilize technology for a modernized world, the problem is that we are manipulating and changing one of our most basic survival needs.

Food – aka our source of whole-body nutrition and well-being

Our technology goes against what is natural and introduces a huge risk for our future health, and for those in the generations to come.

In my opinion, one of the biggest downfalls of the human race was when we adopted this new way of modern living in which our food now comes from the supermarket in highly processed forms, instead of simply from the ground.

Much of North America has lost touch as to how our food grows and we rely solely on the supermarket to provide us with our source of nutrition and well-being.

When we began adopting to this way of living we disconnected ourselves from nature and the health of the planet, which has entered us into a huge downfall because instead of supporting what nature does naturally, we are trying to manipulate it out of greed, profit and convenience.

When it comes to the unnatural practice of irradiation on our food, there are 5 things you should know:

Irradiation damages the nutrition in your food

Irradiation damages your food by creating free radicals. While this process can kill some non-resistant bacteria, the result also degrades vitamin and enzyme content. According to the Center for Food Safety in the United States, irradiated foods can lose from 2-95% of their vitamin content. Irradiation can destroy up to 80% of the vitamin A in eggs, up to 95% of the vitamin A and lutein in green beans, up to 50% of the vitamin A and lutein in broccoli and 40% of the beta-carotene in orange juice . Total loss of nutrients also depends on the dose of irradiation and the length of storage time.  

Food Irradiation

Many foods have already been approved for irradiation

This isn’t a new process which is coming underway – this is already happening and some of these foods may already be in your cupboard. Currently in Canada, the following foods are approved for irradiation and sale:

  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Wheat
  • Flour
  • Spices (both whole and ground)
  • Dehydrated seasonings
  • Mangoes, poultry, shrimp, prawns and ground beef are currently undergoing the approval process in Canada, despite the fact that 54% of surveyed consumers stated that they would not purchase irradiated food due to safety concerns

In the United States, many more foods have been approved for irradiation including:

  • Beef and pork
  • Poultry
  • Oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Lettuce and spinach
  • Spices and seasonings
  • Seeds for sprouting (e.g. alfalfa sprouts)

Science has not proveN that a long-term diet of irradiated foods is safe for human health

Just as with the safety of GM foods, we do not know the long-term effects of a life-long diet that includes irradiated foods. Controversial studies have shown that animals who are fed irradiated foods have an increase in tumors, reproductive failures and kidney damage. Even with current labeling requirements, people cannot avoid eating irradiated food. Which basically means there is no control group that is being studied and epidemiologists will never be able to  properly analyze health patterns to determine if irradiated food have negative health effects .

Irradiation is a not a solution for a food safety problem

Irradiation is just a new process to mask the unacceptable conditions found in factory and processing plants. One main reason for all of the contamination recalls that we experience goes back to the structure of how our food supply works; there are three or four massive companies which are responsible for producing 80% of what we find in the supermarket! We need to consider the environmental effects of these large-scale corporate farming practices. This ‘centralization’ of our food system is a big part of the problem, family farms are being lost and replaced with unionized, impartial government inspectors which of coarse support their own practices that they are preaching as ‘safe’.

Irradiation doesn’t ensure ‘clean’ food

Irradiation can influence food producers to cut corners on sanitation, because with irradiation they can ‘clean up’ the food just before it is shipped. Irradiation does not simply kill all of the bacteria in food, bacteria that can survive are defined as radiation-resistant. These bacteria can then multiply and can eventually work their way back to the feed for animals in factory farming. When this bacteria contaminates the meat, our ‘currently approved’ doses of irradiation will no longer be of any benefit, and then stronger bacteria may contaminate our food supply. Bacteria which can cause botulism, as well as viruses and prions (which are believed to cause Mad Cow Disease) are not killed by current doses of irradiation.

So now knowing all of this. How can you avoid irritated food? In Canada, pre-packaged foods that have been wholly irradiated must display the international radiation symbol, along with a statement that the product has been irradiated. Food that is not pre-packaged must have a sign with this information displayed beside the food. Pre-packaged foods that contain an irradiated ingredient, which makes up more than 10 per cent of the finished product must be indicated in the list of ingredients. If the ingredient makes up less than 10 per cent of the finished product, it is exempt from the labeling requirements.

In the United States, The FDA requires that irradiated foods bear the international symbol for irradiation along with the statement “Treated with Radiation” or “Treated by Irradiation” on the food label. Bulk foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are required to be individually labeled or to have a label next to the sale container. The FDA does not require that individual ingredients in multi-ingredient foods (e.g., spices) be labeled.

There truly is no way to be 100% free from irradiation if you are shopping in your local supermarket, but when you choose to buy organic, by definition irradiation cannot be a part of a certified organic farming practice.

Another great way to avoid irradiation, and also cut out the ‘middle man’ is buy directly from a local farmer at a farmers market. Take pride in knowing where your food comes from, how it is grown and what practices are used on your product. After all, food is more than just something that tastes good and makes hunger go away. What you put inside of your mouth is our most beneficial form of natural medicine, what you eat directly affects your well-being and the practices that you support also influence our planet as a whole. 

Work with nature, not against it – plants have been here longer than we have!