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The Problem of Food Poisoning: Is Irradiation the Answer?

Image for iron In the US, there are millions of cases of foodborne illnesses each year. The causes range from meats that are not cooked to the proper temperature to vegetables growing in contaminated soil. Foodborne illness can lead to can lead to hospitalization and, in severe cases death. Irradiation makes food safer by reducing or eliminating the number of harmful microorganisms that cause illness.

What Irradiation Eliminates

Irradiation can destroy contaminants found in raw meat, shellfish, produce, and other foods. Common microorganisms include:

Different types of irradiation are used to kill these microorganisms, making food safer. You can do your part by:

Addressing Consumer Confidence

Using the word irradiation is sometimes enough to cause alarm for consumers. The US Food and Drug Administration has tried to find a balance between full disclosure and avoiding undue alarm when it comes to product labeling.

Despite these attempts, many consumer groups led the charge that consumers did not want their food to be irradiated. Concerns among these groups included:

Over time, consumers have learned about the process and now are more apt to buy food that has been irradiated.

The Choice Is Yours

Ultimately, the choice is yours. Consider the potential benefits and risks. You will know if a product has been irradiated because of the international symbol, called the radura (shown here). The radura can be any color, and it is accompanied by the phrase "treated by irradiation." In the US, foods approved for this process include: wheat flour, white potatoes, pork, fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, poultry, and meat.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

US Food & Drug Administration


Dietitians of Canada

Health Canada


Estimates of food-borne illness in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/index.html. Updated August 19, 2016. Accessed October 17, 2017.

Food irradiation. US Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: https://www3.epa.gov/radtown/food-irradiation.html. Updated August 7, 2017. Accessed October 17, 2017.

Irradiation and food safety answers to frequently asked questions. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/production-and-inspection/irradiation-and-food-safety/irradiation-food-safety-faq. Updated December 20, 2016. Accessed October 17, 2017.

Irradiation of food and packaging: An overview. US Food & Drug Admistration website. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/IrradiatedFoodPackaging/ucm081050.htm. Updated July 20, 2015. Accessed October 17, 2017.

O'Bryan CA, Crandall PG, Ricke SC, Olson DG. Impact of irradiation on the safety and quality of poultry and meat products: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2008;48(5):442-457.

Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD. FAAP  Last Updated: 10/17/2017