Irradiated food: It works, but few are buying
November 25, 1997
Irradiated food comes with this label
Web posted at: 4:37 p.m. EST (2137 GMT)
From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey
MULBERRY, Florida (CNN) -- Since the 1960s, NASA has been
making astronauts' food safer by irradiating it. But for many
people, irradiation -- bombarding food with gamma rays from
radioactive cobalt-60 to kill food contaminants -- still
evokes images of food that glows in the dark.
At Food Technology Service Inc., an irradiation plant near
Tampa, Florida, the process starts when pallets of food,
already in its final packaging, are put inside tall metal
containers that are moved to an irradiation chamber
surrounded by 6-foot-thick concrete walls.
The containers are then exposed to the racks of
bluish-looking cobalt-60, which stay in a protective pool of
water when not in use. In the process, which takes about 20
to 30 minutes, the gamma radiation passes through the food,
killing harmful bacteria and slowing decay but not leaving
the food radioactive.
The fruit is loaded into large metal containers
before being irradiated
It's "no more than your teeth would be radioactive by the
dentist X-raying them," says Food Technology Service's Pete
The process causes a vitamin loss but most scientists say it
is insignificant and there is no evidence that chemical
changes caused by irradiation can cause cancer. Ellis says
the changes are no different than what happens when food is
canned or cooked.
But some consumer groups are not enthusiastic about
irradiation, arguing it takes the emphasis away from cleaning
up the food supply.
Finding irradiated food in grocery stores can be
"It's saying, don't worry about how clean the packing house
is or the slaughterhouse, kill the germs, but maybe leave the
fecal matter on the food. That's not what Americans want,"
says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public
Don't look too hard for irradiated items in your grocery
store. Although every major scientific organization says the
process is safe, most companies are afraid to sell irradiated
food until consumers demonstrate they're ready for it.