Food Irradiation

Gamma irradiation of food

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 to 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.

Applications for Gamma

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 changes neither 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

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 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 the 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.

Consumer Safety Through 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.

Interview with our customer, 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

More Information on Food Irradiation

Read the Food Irradiation Fact Sheet published by the Health Physics Society (HPS). HPS is a non-profit scientific professional organization whose mission is excellence in the science and practice of radiation safety. The Food Irradiation Fact Sheet answers commonly asked questions like why irradiate foods and how do I know if food has been irradiated, who regulates or controls food irradiation?

Food Irradiation Fact Sheet Thumbnail

Food Irradiation Fact Sheet, February 2019, Health Physics Society