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What is Irradiation?

A process in which high energy rays pass through packaged food. The process destroys dangerous microbes within and on the surface, including foodborne illnesses such as E. coli 0157:H7, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, Cyclospora, and Listeria. The process also eliminates pests (such as fruit flies) and slows foods' natural ripening process, extending shelf-life. Nutritional changes are insignificant.

Critics claim that studies of irradiated foods are inconclusive or outdated, and that studies point to the mutation of genes in both animals and humans.

What Methods are Used in the U.S.?

  • Electronic beam, or e-beam technology
    • Most prevalent type used today
    • Used by over 75% of ground beef producers and 50% of poultry processors
    • Purchased by U.S. Postal Service to safeguard mail supply
    • No radioactivity is involved
    • Turned off and on with a switch
    • In use for 15 years
  • X-Ray technology
    • Most used in the irradiation of produce
    • Stronger version of the medical x-ray machine (can penetrate deeper than e-beam, but not as deep as gamma rays)
    • No radioactivity is involved
    • Turned off and on with a switch
    • More effective than e-beams on products that have high water density or inconsistent shapes (such as most fruits and vegetables)
  • Gamma ray radiation
    • In produce industry, most often used on dried herbs and spices
    • Also used in medical supplies, dental equipment, and household products
    • Rays are emitted by radioactive substance (either Cobalt 60 or Cesium 137)
    • Elements give off high-energy photons that can penetrate solids
    • Gamma rays do not make food, or anything else, radioactive
    • In use for over 30 years
    • Does use radioactive materials

Foods Currently Approved for Irradiation

  • Tropical Fruits & Vegetables, Imported (2002, USDA)
  • Meat (1997 FDA, 1999, USDA)
  • Poultry (1990, FDA, 1992, USDA)
  • Herbs and spices (1986, FDA)
  • Fruits and vegetables (1986, FDA)
  • Pork (1986, FDA)
  • White potatoes (1964, FDA)
  • Wheat flour (1963, FDA)

Does Markon Sell Irradiated Produce?

At this time, no Markon branded products are irradiated. In general, the degree of irradiation needed to kill pathogens in produce can damage it (for example, cause lettuces to wilt).

For More Information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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