Food is an ever-present necessity for survival—and pleasure—in life. But how do we ensure its reliability to supply us with such things? Food irradiation is a technological form of food processing that improves the safety of the edible products we eat daily. This direct application of ionizing radiation extends the shelf life of numerous items and reduces the presence of microorganisms that affect the quality of these food products.
This pasteurization safety practice improves the quality of foods without compromising their nutritional value or noticeably changing their texture, taste, or appearance. Frankly, it’s a remarkable process only possible with the advancement of modern science and tech. Let’s take a closer look at the technology behind food irradiation to learn more about its wellness impact on people, the environment, and our world.
A Useful Application of Radioactivity
Don’t misunderstand—the irradiation of food does not mean that the food becomes radioactive. Many people are unaware of what exactly this process refers to. The radiation utilized for food processing is strikingly diverse from any radioactive fallout from nuclear accidents or warfare.
This technique is generally one of the common applications of radiochemistry utilizing radioactivity for the world’s advantage within the fields of medicine, research, and science. Many around the globe are now practicing food irradiation where bacteria or pathogens are prevalent food safety risks.
In the US, sources of radiation for use on edible products are approved by the FDA. This only happens after determining the safety of the involved process. Companies or suppliers can then process food to an optimal state of cleanliness to ensure fewer health risks via exposure to ionizing radiation.
Ionizing Radiation Techniques
The technology behind food irradiation is ionizing radiation, which is one form of radiation. This radiation exists in nature but is also manufactured for specific purposes. Examples include modern x-rays or the innovation of nuclear medicine procedures. Ionizing radiation is basically a form of energy whose action eliminates electrons from atoms and molecules from living materials.
Food irradiation typically involves one of three possible ionizing radiation techniques: the streaming of gamma rays via the radioactive forms of cobalt or cesium, the use of electron beams that propel high-energy electrons, or x-rays that stream reflective electrons through heavier metals into food to cleanse and eliminate microorganisms.
The Future of Food Irradiation
Many driving factors are fueling the market of food irradiation, such as an increase in food safety concerns, a rise in foodborne illnesses and diseases, and a steady rate of raw food or meat consumption. The market trend appears promising for the future, but there is a lack of awareness about this technology that may hinder growth. The public can keep an eye out for labeled irradiated foods in the modern marketplace, as this process is an evolving movement on the continuum of choices for consumer safety.
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