Of the thousands of products here at the Winter Fancy Food Show, one product category is noticeably missing—irradiated foods.
About 25 years ago, irradiated ground beef made its way into supermarket meat departments. The reason was simple—people were eating meat that was tainted with E. coli or other products with salmonella and people died. Then groups protested the use of irradiation in our foods and soon after public outcry, led by misunderstanding, forced irradiated foods off our shelves.
But now, the discussion and science is back as the E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce and salmonella in beef has sent more than 200 people to the hospital.
Alex Berezow, a Ph.D. microbiologist and senior fellow of biomedical science at the American Council on Science and Health, wrote in USA Today a terrific view, seeped in science about food irradiation. Food irradiation exposes food with high-energy electromagnetic waves, such as X-rays or gamma rays.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved irradiation for several different foods, including meat and produce.
So what’s the problem? People don’t understand what it really is.
The column points to a paper published in the journal Radiation Physics and Chemistry that described several barriers to the widespread adoption of food irradiation. Many consumers are under the wrong impression that irradiation makes food radioactive, but that’s not true.
Other consumers fear that irradiation will decrease the nutritional quality of food. It is true that irradiation can damage some vitamins, but the overall effect is minimal, perhaps the same as that of cooking food.
Berezow writes that even if food irradiation reaped modest benefits, say a 10% decrease in food poisonings, we would save hundreds of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs each year.