Guide

Controls on chemicals in food

Irradiated foods

Food irradiation is the processing of food by ionising radiation. The law permits four methods of irradiation:

  • gamma rays from the radionuclide cobolt-60
  • gamma rays from the radionuclide caesium-137
  • x-rays generated from machine sources operated at or below an energy level of 5MeV (megaelectron volt)
  • electrons generated from machine sources operated at or below an energy level of 10MeV

Why is irradiation used in food?

Irradiation is used to:

  • destroy harmful bacteria - such as e-coli , salmonella, campylobacter
  • delay fruit ripening
  • stop potatoes and other vegetables from sprouting
  • reduce spoilage of food to prolong shelf life
  • rid food of organisms harmful to plants - such as fruit flies

The law allows seven categories of foods to be irradiated:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • cereals
  • bulbs and tubers
  • dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings
  • fish and shellfish
  • poultry

Thorough research has been carried out on food irradiation, and it has been found to be a safe and effective treatment method by:

  • World Health Organisation
  • United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation
  • European Community Scientific Committee for Food

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recognises irradiated food as a safe processing technique and undertakes safety inspections of the food irradiation facilities in the UK, of which there is currently only one.

Labelling of irradiated foods

By law, all food that has been irradiated must be labelled as "irradiated" or "treated with ionising radiation". The FSA can detect whether foods have been irradiated, and local council enforcement officers regularly take food samples from the market place to ensure that products are correctly labelled.