Saturday, August 23, 2008


Food technologists of Atomic Energy Commission are happy that they have done pioneering research on food irradiation technology to suit Indian conditions, government is happy that it does not have to take a bold decision in clearing the use of this technology in the country and consumer is happy his food is not subjected to the same 'bombing' process similar to those hapless people in Hiroshima in Japan who were the first guinea pigs for confirming the lethal potential of the first atomic bomb during World War II. But the one who is not happy is the industry who feels that a powerful weapon to make foods safer has been denied for no logical reason. It is no body's business to prove that irradiation technology is as safe as any other processing technologies deployed by the industry to day to conserve and preserve foods, make them safer to the consumer and reduce spoilage and consequent avoidable wastage. This technology has been approved as safe by no less an authority than World Health Organization based on voluminous data generated by many countries during the last 4-5 decades. It is by now well established beyond a shadow of doubt that irradiation does not do any harm to the consumer though all countries are cautious in deploying the same on a wide scale. To day use of radiation or ionizing energy is approved by more than 40 countries including USA, Japan, China, France and Holland. Some countries like Australia do not permit food to be irradiated fearing consumer back lash. The advantages are many fold, most significant being the ability of radiation to kill dangerous bacteria like Salmonella, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli 0157 H7, Listeria, Staphylococcus aureus, and Toxoplasma which are known to be causing over 76 million illnesses, 3.25 lakh hospitalization and 5000 deaths across the globe.

Most commonly irradiation is used to process fruits, vegetables, grains, spices, meat, fish and poultry meat. A low dose of radiation well below the universally accepted safe level of 10 kilo Gray can bring about drastic reduction in the number of bacteria in many food products. Only for spices a higher dose of 30 kGy is required for complete dis infestation and sterilization. Irradiation also destroys the Trichina parasite in pork products effectively with no adverse effect on its sensory quality. Irradiation is the most effective technology to inhibit sprouting in potato and onion and increasingly being adopted by the major producing countries. One limitation is that irradiation adversely affects the flavor or texture in some products like dairy foods and eggs. Worldwide there are more than 170 irradiators working since last 40 years treating pharma and food products successfully with no known adverse consequences. Also many electron accelerators are deployed for same purpose in many countries. The fact that practically all ground beef produced in USA and over 90000 tons of spices and dried vegetable seasonings are regularly being irradiated annually since 2005 is a telling evidence of the coming up of age for this awesome technology.

Continuous struggle by the food industry to get approval for the use of irradiation technology has evoked little response from government agencies. The 2006 food poisoning episode sending hundreds to hospital and killing 3 people due to E.coli contamination of spinach woke up FDA of US to allow irradiation of spinach and lettuce, two salad materials consumed cold without any processing, effective from to day. The 2008 episode of Salmonella tainted tomato and Jalapeno pepper affecting more than 1000 people may yet open the eyes of regulatory authorities to the advantages offered by irradiation technology and review the policy to support industry efforts to deliver safer foods to their consumers. The underlying apprehension is that industry may lower its guard if such a powerful technology is allowed to be used compromising on good handling, packing and storage practices. This is misplaced as no responsible industry will compromise on their reputation, jeopardizing their business interests.


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