Commercial food production incorporates high standards and quality checks to make food free from pathogens. However relying on production techniques alone doesn’t guarantee 100 percent safety at all times. Washing treatments applied post harvest help in reducing the levels of contaminating organisms although evidence suggests washing cannot fully eliminate all organisms from produce like sprouts and leaves.
Food irradiation holds the key to eliminate microorganisms from foods thereby improving their safety and extending shelf life. Like milk pasteurization and canning of vegetables and fruits, irradiation can help in making food safer for consumers. It kills microorganisms without affecting the appearance, aroma, texture or nutritional quality of food. So you can be assured of no adverse impact on your food with the added benefit of it being totally safe for consumption. This technology has proven effective against some of the most common microorganisms like E. coli and Salmonella thus helping in reducing food borne illnesses. Bacteria and mold are known to cause food poisoning and other illnesses in thousands of cases each year and can make millions of people sick worldwide sending them to hospitals. Irradiation can kill Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli. It is seen that animal feed can also contain these disease causing bacteria which can spread to livestock. It also helps in slowing down aging of foods. Treating of foods like grains and spices with radiation helps in storing them for a long period of time. It also allows transporting them over long distances.
Food irradiation involves X-rays, gamma rays or electron beams and uses techniques similar to the ones used in medical equipment sterilization. These rays are electromagnetic waves having high energy. As they pass through the packaging, they kill living tissue like bacteria and viruses. The food passes through a radiation chamber and is exposed to the beams. It doesn’t come in contact with radioactive materials directly. It is one of the few technologies which address both; food safety and quality because of its ability to eliminate microorganisms without majorly impacting other attributes of food. In addition, it has other advantages over traditional methods like it does not over heat the food nor does it leave any chemical residue.
Scientific research has proved that irradiation is not harmful to the nutritional quality of the food, nor does the food become unsafe for consumption. Similar to milk pasteurization, it will become more effective if it is coupled with other carefully designed sanitation programs. Confidence of consumers will depend on two things; firstly to make food clean and then using techniques like radiation for making it safe. The next logical step for the food industry is to adopt food radiation to reduce the burden of diseases spread through food. This technology is not only protecting people in this world but even out of this world. NASA astronauts are provided irradiated food to protect them from food borne illnesses and prevent them from falling sick in space!