Irradiation, or "electronic pasteurization," exposes food to a radiant source of energy, such as gamma rays or electron beams, for a brief period of time. Irradiation is a "cold" process that produces little heat, so food can remain packaged throughout the process—and until opened by the consumer. Irradiation decreases or eliminates harmful bacteria, insects, and parasites. It does not make a food radioactive, and it is allowed in nearly forty countries (including the United States, France, Israel, Russia, and China). It is also endorsed by many agencies, including the World Health Organization. Food Irradiation is not without controversy, however, and many consumer groups and organic farming organizations oppose it, believing that it can alter the cellular structure of foods and cause the production of free radicals. Other pasteurization: heating to destroy bacteria and other microorganisms, after Louis Pasteur gamma rays: very high energy radiation, more powerful than x rays bacteria: single-celled organisms without nuclei, some of which are infectious parasite: organism that feeds off of other organisms free radical: highly reactive molecular fragment, which can damage cells vitamin: necessary complex nutrient used to aid enzymes or other metabolic processes in the cell isoflavones: estrogen-like compounds in plants phytochemical: chemical produced by plants biological: related to living organisms physiological: related to the biochemical processes of the body cancer: uncontrolled cell growth heart disease: any disorder of the heart or its blood supply, including heart attack, atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease diabetes: inability to regulate level of sugar in the blood estrogen: hormone that helps control female development and menstruation cholesterol: multi-ringed molecule found in animal cell membranes; a type of lipid tofu: soybean curd, similar in consistency to cottage cheese protein: complex molecule composed of amino acids that performs vital functions in the cell; necessary part of the diet hazards cited by critics include the partial destruction of vitamins in irradiated foods, the destruction of beneficial bacteria as well as harmful bacteria, and the environmental hazard of nuclear irradiation facilities.

A logo called the "radura" is used internationally to indicate that the food has been irradiated, though some have suggested that this symbol is too benign to accurately represent the irradiation process, and that it is too similar to the symbol of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. see also Biotechnology; Food Safety.

M. Elizabeth Kunkel Barbara H. D. Luccia


Institute of Food Technologists' Expert Panel on Food Safety and Nutrition (1998). Scientific Status Summary: Irradiation of Food. Chicago, IL: Author.

Satin, Morton (1996). Food Irradiation: A Guidebook, 2nd edition. Lancaster, PA: Tech-nomic Publishing.

Internet Resources

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Available from <>

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