Gamma for Food Irradiation

Spices can be contaminated with up to 1 million bacteria per gram. And with irradiation, we can reduce it by 99.9%. Irradiation will not change the taste, the color, will not leave any residue and also really lowers the microbial count.

Nathalie Rivard, BSA


55 countries have approved the use of irradiation* 


500,000 metric tons of food products are commercially irradiated each year**


200+ large-scale irradiators in the world


120 large-scale irradiators built by Nordion

* – Source: History and future of food irradiation, Jozsef Farkas and Csilla Mohacsi-Farkas, 2011
** – Source: Recent Development of Nuclear Application Technology, Sueo Machi, IAEA, 2012

Why Gamma?

Food irradiation is the process of exposing boxes or pallets of food products to radiation from a Cobalt-60 source. The ionizing radiation destroys dangerous contaminates in foods such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and insects. The process is not new; it’s been around for the past 60 years. However, as the world’s food supply continues to globalize, with new and exotic fruits and vegetables being introduced to foreign markets almost daily, the need to ensure the safety and quality of these new foods is of critical importance.

Nordion’s Role?

Throughout the global marketplace, Nordion’s gamma expertise plays an important role in the access of safe foods—from contract relationships with suppliers of raw Cobalt-60 to manufacturing Cobalt-60 into a usable form as well as designing and manufacturing irradiation processing equipment to delivering Cobalt-60 to those very food product irradiation facilities.
Through the Nordion Gamma Centre of Excellence – a world-class applied research and specialty gamma processing facility – we provide contract and specialty irradiation services and an applications research and development program including a full-service dosimetry laboratory and training centre.
As the world becomes a more global marketplace – the role for gamma processing is growing.


What are the Applications?

Microbial Reduction

High doses of gamma are shown to be effective in killing pathogens such as E.coli, listeria and salmonella in red meat, poultry, fish, shell eggs, fruits, vegetables and spices. Irradiation is done for the safety of people, and neither changes the taste nor the nutrient levels of food.*
*- Source: Food Irradiation Processing Alliance (FIPA)

Phytosanitary/Shelf-life Extension

Low doses of gamma are effective in eliminating the risk of introducing foreign insects to other countries.  Gamma irradiation delays ripening, inhibits sprouting and extends shelf life, which helps to meet food quarantine standards for export. These and other concerns—such as the growing awareness of the dangers of chemicals which has led countries to review and in some cases suspend their use*—have resulted in an increase in irradiation of food products for phytosanitary and shelf-life extension purposes.
*- Source: Irradiation as a phytosanitary treatment of food agricultural commodities, IAEA, 2002


Disinfestation of Spices

Disinfestation of Spices 

From pepper to paprika, from basil to parsley, many spices are disinfected using gamma. Gamma kills insects and prevents food-borne illnesses caused by micro-organisms—without affecting the taste of the spices. The American Spice Trade Association provides guidance on the use of irradiation as a microbial reduction strategy for spices.

Disinfestation of Food


In some countries, regulatory requirements and consumer demands are restricting the use of chemical phytosanitary treatments required for export of fruits and vegetables. The growing awareness of the dangers of chemicals such as Dimethoate, Fenthion, Methylbromide and other known carcinogens has led countries to review and in some cases suspend their use. These and other drivers have resulted in an increase in irradiation of food products for phytosanitary purposes as an alternative to chemical treatments. To facilitate the irradiation of high-density low-dose product, businesses partner with Nordion to optimize a unique selectable gamma configuration depending on product type.

Insect Population Control

Insect Control 

Sterile insect technique was pioneered in the 1950s to control populations of insects which could spread disease or impact agricultural crops.  Gamma irradiation is used to render male screw-worm flies, tse-tse flies and other fruit flies sterile.  Large numbers of sterile males are then released into the wild, dramatically reducing the number of insects in the next generation.  Repeated release can eventually wipe out a population of insects.  A World Food prize was awarded to Dr. Raymond Bushland and Dr. Edward Knipling for their development and use of this technique.

Consumer Safety through Pathogen Reduction

 Pathogen Reduction

In some countries, gamma irradiation is used to treat meat and produce against micro-organisms such as E. Coli and Salmonella. Irradiation is for the safety of consumers. Food prepared with meat and produce that has been irradiated is indistinguishable in taste and nutrient level from food prepared with non-irradiated ingredients.

Let’s Talk Food

Food irradiation is part of the answer to providing a sustainable, diverse and safe food supply to people around the world. While food irradiation has been around for decades, it’s clear from recent growth—especially in phytosanitary treatment of food products—that the industry is at a turning point. Availability and acceptance of the technology has opened up international export markets and provided opportunity for growth of local and international businesses.

You can find this video on the Resources page.

Food Irradiation Fact Sheet