Understanding Food Irradiation


Written By: Jack Burger
Edited By: Jack Burger
Designed By: Jack Burger & Samantha Porte
Published By: Samantha Porte

Radiation is a naturally occurring energy that occurs in nature. Yet, in our society, it gets a terrible representation. While it is true that radiation can be worrying for you, there are applications where radiation could be helpful. One particular instance of this in food could be food irradiation.

What is Radiation:

Radiation is an energy that is transferred from one place to another in the form of a particle or a wave. 2 types of radiation exist, ionizing and non-ionizing. Ionizing radiation is the form used for food irradiation. Ionizing radiation can travel through matter and take away molecules from the object. This is the radiation used in food irradiation.

What is Food Irradiation:

Food irradiation is a way to treat or sterilize foods. The food goes through facilities that make ionizing radiation, and the radiation treats the food.

How is Food Irradiated :

There are three different ionizing radiation sources used for food irradiation, gamma rays, electron beams, and X-rays. Many of these processes are used for medical uses, including cancer treatment, producing internal images of material, and sterilization. The most used source is gamma irradiation, as it is cheaper, penetrates more, and has more uniformity. 

Radiation Facilities:

Gamma facilities are the most prominent type of facility used for food irradiation. In this facility, cobalt-60 (an isotope of cobalt) is used as the source of energy. This radioactive material is contained in stainless steel cylinders. These cylinders are on a lift and stored in water when not in use. The cylinders are lifted to the facility where food goes through when gamma radiation is needed. Cobalt-60 releases gamma radiation that goes through the steel and the food. This treats the food.

Electron beam facilities use the power of the electron to treat food. This is done by a machine that concentrates and accelerates the speed of the electrons to 99% of the speed of light. Food passes under the beam on a conveyor belt with a predetermined time, energy level, and concentration for different types of foods.

X-ray facilities use X-rays to treat the food. This is executed using the electron beam stated above that is shot at a plate of metal. The metal absorbs some of the electron energy while the rest of the energy is converted into x-rays. The food goes around the energy source to get treated similarly to the gamma facility.

Every facility has different ways to irradiate food. These facilities have special walls and precautions in place to keep the radiation in the facility.

How to Tell if Food Is Irradiated:

Irradiated foods have a green logo on the packaging. If you see this logo, then you are eating food that has gone through radiation.

Foods That Are Irradiated in Canada:

Several foods are irradiated in Canada. These foods include potatoes, onions, flour, spices, and ground beef. These inhibit the growth of sprouts in potatoes and onions, reduce the number of microorganisms in spices and ground beef, and stop insect outbreaks in flour. Of course, the rules about which food is eligible are changing daily. However, these are the permitted foods for food irradiation in Canada and the ones you will most likely see the green symbol.


Pros and Cons of Irradiated food:


  • Improves storage life
  • Is a proven way of sterilization and is approved by the World Health Organization, The United Nations and multiple government-regulated agencies.
  • Has been shown to kill organisms that cause foodborne illnesses. (E.Coli and salmonella)
  • Does not affect the quality of the product as much as some other methods provide


  • Worry over if it could cause mutations if insufficient amounts of radiation are applied
  • Bacteria or organisms could become immune or resistant to radiation and be harder to kill
  • Environmental problems can arise if the irradiation facility is not secure.
  • Do not have a complete understanding of how safe it is

Is Food Irradiation Good or Bad:

Though it seems suspicious to put radiation into the things we eat, The energy levels used in facilities are not large enough to cause the food to become radioactive. However, there is still much worry over even a little radiation in our foods. No matter where you stand on the topic of radiation, You have the choice to buy or ignore these foods. But no matter that choice, the fact remains that food is essential. So make sure to waste less and eat healthier, with or without radiation included.


Works Cited

Bruhn, Christine M. “How Does Food Irradiation Work?” Center for Consumer Research, University of California, 28 June 2017, https://ccr.ucdavis.edu/food-irradiation/how-does-food-irradiation-work.

Commercial Irradiator, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 25 Aug. 2017, https://live.staticflickr.com/4384/36801710985_582b3db9b8_c.jpg. Accessed 25 May 2022.

Debret, Chelsea. “The Pros and Cons of Food Irradiation, the Common Practice of Pasteurizing Food.” One Green Planet, 14 July 2020, https://www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/pros-cons-food-irradiation-avoid-pasteurizing/.

“Food Irradiation: What You Need to Know.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, 17 Feb. 2022, https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/food-irradiation-what-you-need-know.

Palmer, Sharon. “Irradiation: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Affects the Food Supply.” Today’s Dietitian, Great Valley Publishing Company, Jan. 2009, https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/011209p32.shtml.

“Radura Symbol.” File:Radura Symbol.svg, Wikimedia Commons, 2 June 2021, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/Radura_Symbol.svg. Accessed 25 May 2022.

Rodrigue, Bruno. “Regulations Amending the Food and Drug Regulations (Food Irradiation).” Canada Gazette – Regulations Amending the Food and Drug Regulations (Food Irradiation), Government of Canada, 20 Dec. 2017, https://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2017/2017-02-22/html/sor-dors16-eng.html.

SouldesignEu. Free Warning Icons Variations Set Stock Photo, FreeImages, https://images.freeimages.com/images/large-previews/f9a/warning-icons-variations-set-1164319.jpg. Accessed 25 May 2022. 

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