186 Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 58, No.2
Copyrighl©, International Association of Milk, Food and Environmental Sanitarians
Radiation Processing of Foods: An Overview of Scien1:i'ficPrinciples and Current Status MANUEL
Crocker Nuclear Laboratory (Chemistry and Agriculture Program), University of California, Davis, California 95616-8569 (MS # 94-2\3,
Received August 22, 1994/Accepted
Despite its scientific and technical label of worldwide approval, acceptance and use of food irradiation in the U.S. has become stagnant and a political and psychological issue. As a physical process, food irradiation provides opportunities to improve food protection and preservation technologies. Its use would help solve known public-health problems, as well as minimize the environmental effects caused by chemical and energy-intense processes. In part, this stagnant situation is due to the lack of an educational program, well focused to address critical public concerns and well coordinated by government, academia, and industry. This program should explain the scientific basis and rationale, the advantages, and the limitations of radiation processing of foods. It should also counteract the exploitation by consumer activists who have fostered vocal and seemingly strong opposition. This work provides a summary of educational information and identifies the g.oals and objectives for consumer education. Key words: Irradiation, food safety, FDA
Radiation processing of foods, known as food irradiation, has been regulated in the U.S. since 1963 as a "food additive," thus requiring extensive animal-feeding and chemistry studies. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) regulations (45,46) define it simply as a process in which foods are exposed to predetermined levels of radiation energy with either a radioactive source (cobalt 60, halflife 5.2 years; or cesium 137, half-life 30 years), with electron beams (EB) or with x-rays generated in electrically driven machines (i.e., accelerators). Food irradiation renders foods free from insects, reduces or eliminates bacterial and fungal contamination, and can arrest the physiological decay (spoilage) process in certain foods. Since 1976, and under specific conditions and restrictions, the process has been sanctioned by WHO as adequate for producing wholesome foods, and today it is considered a safe and technically feasible method for the preservation of a variety of foods (45,46). Since 1963, several uses and applications have been permitted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the general guidance of good manufacturing practices (Table 1) (15,16). Despite its label of approval, several barriers remain before food irradiation can reach full commercialization, particularly in the U.S. These barriers are not scientific or technical in nature, but
August 22, 1994)
are yet unresolved concerns about the choice of technology and its costs (28), and several issues of consumer acceptance which have resulted in political and psychological opposition (39). Because of this situation, several steps are needed and must be taken. First, the general public must be educated concerning the scientific rationale that supports the use of irradiation in foods and leads to current regulatory approvals. This educational effort should include an analysis of the comparative benefits and risks of radiation processing relative to other well-established food-processing techniques in use today. Second, and in orderto accomplish the necessary objectives, the educational task must be a cooperative effort between the government and the foodindustry sector. This latter aspect is essential to accomplishing the educational goal, and to providing a broader basis for and a stronger credibility to this effort. Other factors delaying the commercialization of radiation processing of foods are discussed below. Basic principles of food irradiation The first rational step towards education is a clear, simple description of the basic principles behind food irradiation.
TABLE 1. Radiation processing the U.S. (1991).
of food: uses and limitations in
a. Control of Trichinella spiralis in pork (0.3 to 1.0 kGy; 30 to 100 krad). b. Inhibition of growth and maturation of fresh foods «1 kGy;