Food Irradiation Updates

Published by Ronald F. Eustice and sponsored  by GRAY*STAR Inc.
November  2017
Food Irradiation Update is published monthly by Ronald F. Eustice, a food quality & safety assurance consultant based in Tucson, Arizona. He can be reached at:
and at 612.202.1016 
Irradiation is one process with many purposes. We generally think of irradiation as a tool to eliminate harmful bacteria, disinfest produce from insect pests, prevent sprouting of tubers, and extend shelf life. We see steady growth of irradiation as a tool to protect public health and prevent harmful pests from "hitch hiking" on imported produce. We don't hear as much about the use of irradiation of seeds as a tool to increase yields and productivity. Several countries including Indonesia and India are at the forefront of this technology. Indonesia has developed 22 new rice varieties by using irradiation and doubled yields. Irradiation processing is used for a lot of things other than food.  Applications are being continuously discovered...even using irradiated recycled plastic to reinforce concrete... Learn more below.

Featured Article: Some reasons why some food processors choose not to use irradiation; Are the reasons valid or just excuses?  By Ronald F. Eustice
Irradiation is gaining wider acceptance with each passing day. Thousands of tonnes of irradiated meat, produce and seafood are being consumed annually in about 50 countries. In fact, irradiation is becoming one of the preferred interventions to eliminate insect pests and it has even greater potential to prevent food borne illness. 

So if it's such a great idea, why are some food processors and producers still reluctant to use irradiation? Why are major food corporations willing to settle multi-million dollar lawsuits when irradiation could have not only avoided the litigation but more importantly prevented the illness in the first place?
During the twenty years that I have been educating the industry and the general public about food irradiation, I have received lots of feedback; overwhelmingly positive. However, some of the same questions come up repeatedly but there is a difference today compared to when I began; questions come up less often as the public warms up to irradiation.  Answers must be provided to these concerns. 

I recently received the following comment from a meat industry expert, " I think we will see increasing amounts of food irradiated but I still fear it will overall weaken the diligence of plants to run super clean. I also believe there are minor taste issues with irradiated fats." In this column I will take a look at a few of the reasons used by those who choose not to use irradiation. You can also learn more at 
1. Question: The radura symbol that is required to be on the package of irradiated meat, poultry and seafood will be viewed negatively by the consumer.  
Fact: The label should be used to help educate the consumers and not scare them. Why was the product irradiated? We irradiate meat for food safety. We irradiate imported fruit to prevent harmful insect pests from destroying American agriculture. Under current FDA rules for the retail label we can either add to the 'requirement'...e.g. "Treated by Irradiation for Food Safety".  Or, make a case by case request for replacement wording for "Treated by Irradiation".  USDA rules are slightly different but also allow for augmentation or replacement. Words such as "Irradiated for Food Safety" and "Irradiated to Protect Agriculture from Harmful Insect Pests" should become standard. Labelling can become a benefit and not a stumbling block. Schwans uses "Irradiated for Food Safety" on packages.  Information and education will help irradiation take its rightful place as the powerful tool it is.
2. Question: Irradiation will mask low quality and contamination and result in the sale of inferior food?
Fact: Irradiation is not a substitute for best manufacturing practices, and will not replace inspection, sanitation and intervention practices now in place. Federal laws are in place that require procedures and practices that have helped make our food supply safe. Irradiation is an additional tool that will make safe food even safer.
3. Question: Irradiated food tastes "different." 
Fact: Omaha Steaks, Schwans, and Wegmans have marketed irradiated ground beef for nearly 20 years. Several other beef processors are also marketing irradiated ground beef. If there was a negative impact on taste, texture and color consumers would not buy it. We have done numerous "blind" taste tests with various groups. Something like 99 percent say there is no difference and of those that say they can tell a difference are right about half the time. The "wet dog" issue occurred decades ago with research using a higher than necessary dose; 50 kGy (about ten times more than is now used now) which is 1.25 kGy for fresh and 2.25 kGy for frozen. Those who are critical have used that argument as an excuse not to use irradiation without recognizing that that research is seriously out-dated.
4. Question: Irradiation will increase the cost of our food.
Fact: True; irradiation will increase the cost of food by pennies per pound. Any process that adds value to a food also increases cost. Let's look at it this way, companies have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits involving food safety issues. The cost of irradiation facilities depends on many factors. In nearly all cases, the cost of an irradiation facility is less than the cost to settle a lawsuit.  

For fifty years invalid "reasons" have become convenient excuses not explore the use of irradiation for specific products. Those considering irradiation should get their facts from reliable sources. There is  a lot of misinformation about irradiation on the internet and some of it was placed on line decades ago by groups and individuals who had other agendas. Accurate information on food irradiation can be found at   

For those companies involved in recalls or food safety litigation, the decision not to use irradiation was a costly decision. No one has ever been sued for selling irradiated food but multiple companies have settled multi-million dollar lawsuits because they found "reasons (excuses)" not to use irradiation to make their product safer. 

Ronald F. Eustice, the author of this article has been involved in the commercial introduction of irradiated foods since 1997 while he was serving as executive director, Minnesota Beef Council. During the past 20 years, Eustice has spoken at food safety conferences in more than 30 US states and ten countries regarding consumer acceptance of irradiated food in the marketplace. Contact Ron Eustice at

MYTH of the MONTH: "It would take a huge dose of radiation, much more than is needed, to actually make food radioactive." By Russell Stein
"It would take a huge dose of radiation, much more than is needed, to actually make food radioactive."

This statement is incorrect. Food will not be made radioactive no matter how "huge" the dose.

"Dose" is the amount of radiation energy absorbed (quantity) in the product. Dose is measured in Grays. One Gray is equal to 1 joule per kilogram. As the radiation hits the molecules of food, the radiation energy is totally converted to heat energy (absorbed).

Similarly, if you put the same food in your household oven, the heat energy is transferred to the molecules of food. The heat energy absorbed could also be measured in joules per kilogram. No matter how much heat is applied to the food, an oven cannot make the food radioactive. Thus the absorbed dose does not make food radioactive.

Something can be made radioactive by subjecting it to a type of radiation with specific qualities that can affect the nucleus of an atom. To avoid these, the FDA has limited the sources for irradiation that can be used on foods
. Specifically four different types of radiation:
1). Cobalt-60 -
A radioactive element that produces two gamma photons with discrete (cannot be changed) energies of 1.17 and 1.33 MeV. (Million electron Volts)

2). Cesium-137 -
A radioactive element that produces one gamma photon with a discrete energy of 0.662 MeV.

3). Accelerated Electrons (Electron Beam) -
Made in a machine that accelerates electrons (beta particles) to an energy not to exceed 10 MeV.

4). X-rays -
Generated by taking accelerated electrons, which are not to exceed 7.5 MeV, and converting them into x-rays. (X-rays and gamma photons, at the same MeV, are identical. The only difference is how they are created.)

The qualities of the radiation and not the quantities of radiation will determine if something is made radioactive. To assure that food is not made radioactive, the FDA has limited the process to only four sources of radiation as described .

Link to Article ...
Russell Stein 
 Australian company creating efficient biosecurity pathways; Fresh Plaza by Matthew Russell (Oct. 31, 2017):
Queensland-based Steritech is at the forefront of food irradiation.
One of the latest biosecurity treatment options is helping Australian produce to be delivered to markets faster, fresher and in higher volumes than previously possible, according to Asia-Pacific's most prominent contract sterilisation and decontamination processor.

Queensland-based Steritech has spent the past 20 years developing phytosanitary irradiation, which Fresh Produce Business Manager Ben Reilly says is proving valuable for an increasing number of products and markets.

"Compared to chemical and heat specific treatments, irradiation is very flexible," he said. "The traditional treatments all had unique strength as well as a sacrifice; whether it was on speed, volume or cold chain integrity. Irradiation largely combines these strengths into one treatment without any of the limitations. Having a choice of treatments is allowing Australian industry to deliver more competitive programs through a combination of sea and air freight shipments."

Irradiation is much like microwaves or light and exists in in the form of energy waves. These waves pass through the package and product before rapidly dissipating. The fruit is edible immediately after treatment as there is no residual energy. It is effective at all handling temperatures which makes it a healthy, fresh solution for fresh produce phytosanitary treatments.

Mr Reilly adds that the long-term commitment to this treatment has started to deliver results like table grape and cherry protocols to Vietnam and the mangoes to the USA. As well, fruits like berries and cherries are so perishable and sensitive that exporters are very limited in export potential without irradiation as an option.

Steritech has plans for a Melbourne facility to improve access for southern producers with crops like grapes, citrus, summer fruit and cherries.

"The Melbourne facility will be perfectly located to service domestic distribution," Mr Reilly said. "When local supply ends, markets like Western Australia often rely on imports rather than sourcing from Australia's east coast production. We are very excited about our potential to work with Australian retail in increasing access to Australian grown choices. Mangoes, berries, tomatoes among other northern export crops will remain logistically suited for treatment in Queensland."

Phytosanitary irradiation works by sterilising an insect, preventing it from reproducing. Sources for phytosanitary irradiation include Cobalt, E-beam and X-ray. The latter two use electricity to generate the irradiation. Both E-beam and X-ray technology will be utilised in the Melbourne facility. Mr Reilly says irradiation's greatest challenge is developing the protocols fast enough for industry demand.

"We travel extensively visiting export markets to understand commercial and consumer needs. We also assist with addressing barriers to market access where it is yet to be achieved. When it comes to creating the new protocols, we work with industry and government to ensure technical requirements do not unnecessarily restrict ability to meet a market's needs. Although most of our business is in exports, there is a growing opportunity and justification for irradiation to be considered as a remedial and on-arrival treatment option. This is something we are continuing to explore."

The company is confident demand is increasing, which is demonstrated by the volume of trade and industry support for additional protocols.

"The existing irradiation protocols have created clear benefits for everyone from the farmer through to the consumer," Mr Reilly said. "It is important for these new protocols to be created with foresight to be effective for future trade. The increasing use of innovative packaging for premium products will only further drive the demand for treatments like irradiation that can be applied to fully sealed packs."

He adds Australia's diverse production regions and complex biosecurity scenario is both a challenge and opportunity in one - and the industry needs to have flexible, effective solutions in place that ensure it and the future potential is not limited.

"Trade relationships, biosecurity and technology are always changing and impacting each other," Mr Reilly said. "I am confident phytosanitary irradiation is playing an increasingly important role in delivering this. Likewise, I am confident Australia is in a prime position to take advantage of the technology with world leading facilities, protocols and industry support already present."
For more information: 
Ben Reilly
Phone: + 61 7 3385 8400

Doubling Incomes, Fighting Climate Change: Rice Varieties Developed with Nuclear Techniques Expands in Indonesia:
By Miklos Gaspar, IAEA Office of Public Information and Communication
Gamma irradiation is being used in Indonesia double rice yields.
Mangaran, East Java, Indonesia  -- Stocky, strong and quick to ripen - that is how Indonesian farmers like their rice, and that is exactly what nuclear science has delivered to them.  And higher income, to top it all.

It is the second season that some 200 farmers in this region of East Java have used the variety Inpari Sidenuk ("nuclear dedication" in Indonesian), arming themselves against the effects of climate change while doubling their yields to 9 tons per hectare. Inpari Sidenuk is one of 22 rice varieties developed by scientists at the country's National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN) using irradiation, a process often used to generate new and useful traits in crops (see Breeding new varieties using nuclear techniques).

The IAEA, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) supports researchers in 70 countries, including Indonesia, in the use radiation for agricultural research. The development of new, improved varieties helps increase food supply and therefore food security around the world.

"It is particularly important for us to have varieties that meet the new, more erratic weather conditions brought about by climate change," said Abdul Rasyid Afandi, a farmer in Mangaran who has planted the new variety on over half of his 2-hectare plot.
Farmers here are able to plant rice three times a year, once in the dry and twice in the rainy season. The length of the seasons has varied more than usual in recent years, resulting in drier overall weather and the spread of new pests and diseases, he explained. As a result, farmers had seen yields with previously used varieties dip below 5 tons per hectare.

The introduction of Inpari Sidenuk has not only led to the recovery of previous yield levels, but at 9 tons per hectare has significantly surpassed earlier harvest rates. The variety is much shorter, making it less vulnerable to strong winds, which used to destroy around a tenth of the crop.

The only problem is the lack of seeds available to farmers, said A. Sidik Tanoyo, an Agriculture Ministry extension officer in the district. "It is important that more seeds are produced to increase the area of cultivation, which will contribute to increased productivity and farmers' incomes," he said. It is now the task of the country's agriculture authorities to produce more seeds of the new variety. Such mass production no longer requires irradiation, only the conventional multiplication of seeds.

Seamless cooperation between BATAN and agriculture authorities is crucial in ensuring the distribution of any new variety to farmers, said Ita Dwimahyani, a plant breeder at BATAN's Centre for Isotope and Radiation Application.  Inpari Sidenuk was developed from a local variety in 2007, and released by BATAN in 2011. However, difficulties with distribution have meant that it has taken a few years for it to get to farmers.

"It is difficult for us to pick among the new varieties available and depend on the extension officers for advice," Afandi said. "We are very enthusiastic for this new variety." He added that the extra income he hopes to earn in coming years will contribute to the university education of his children and also allow him to save more for his old age.
In the meantime, at BATAN research will continue to develop new varieties in order to keep up with the needs brought about by climate change, Dwimahyani said.

In Indonesia, twenty-two new varieties of rice have been developed by using irradiation; yields have doubled.
THE SCIENCE Breeding new varieties using nuclear techniques
Twenty-two rice varieties have been developed by BATAN scientists through a process known as mutation breeding.  Applied since the 1930s to accelerate the process of developing and selecting new valuable agronomic traits, mutation breeding uses a plant's own genetic make-up, mimicking the natural process of spontaneous mutation. The mutation process generates random genetic variations, resulting in plants with new and useful traits.

BATAN scientists use gamma irradiation to induce mutations in seeds and considerably speed up the natural mutation process. After seed irradiation, they test the new mutant plants for various characteristics, and select those displaying useful traits for further breeding and subsequent distribution to farmers.

The Eighth Annual Chapman Phytosanitary Irradiation Forum moves to a new venue for 2018!
Hotel Centara Grand at Central Plaza Ladprao, Bangkok, Thailand
June 13-15, 2018
Organized in cooperation with the USDA, the International Irradiation Association (iia), the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology (TINT) and the Joint programme of the FAO/IAEA, the objective of this Phytosanitary Irradiation forum is to increase understanding of irradiation as a phytosanitary treatment to enhance global trade, to prevent invasive pests and to foster dialogue.

Registration will be available at
Dr. Anuradha Prakash,
Yves Henon,
Carl Blackburn,

Students fortify concrete by adding recycled plastic (October 28, 2017) : By Jennifer Chu
Discarded plastic bottles that are irradiated could one day be used to build stronger, more flexible concrete structures, from sidewalks and street barriers, to buildings and bridges, according to a new study at MIT.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students have found that exposing plastic flakes to small, harmless doses of gamma radiation, then pulverizing the flakes into a fine powder, they can mix the plastic with cement paste to produce concrete that is up to 20 percent stronger than conventional concrete.

Concrete is, after water, the second most widely used material on the planet. The manufacturing of concrete generates about 4.5 percent of the world's human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. Replacing even a small portion of concrete with irradiated plastic could thus help reduce the cement industry's global carbon footprint.

Re-using plastics as concrete additives could also redirect old water and soda bottles, the bulk of which would otherwise end up in a landfill.
"There is a huge amount of plastic that is landfilled every year," says Michael Short, an assistant professor in MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. "Our technology takes plastic out of the landfill, locks it up in concrete, and also uses less cement to make the concrete, which makes fewer carbon dioxide emissions. This has the potential to pull plastic landfill waste out of the landfill and into buildings, where it could actually help to make them stronger."

This is a part of our dedicated effort in our laboratory for involving undergraduates in outstanding research experiences dealing with innovations in search of new, better concrete materials with a diverse class of additives of different chemistries," says the director of Laboratory for Infrastructure Science and Sustainability. is an excellent source of information on food irradiation.

Food Irradiation Update is published by Ronald Eustice.  Eustice and sent to you through the sponsorship of GRAY*STAR, Inc., the manufacturer of the Genesis Irradiator.  
Food irradiation is a cold pasteurization process that will do for meats, produce, and other foods what thermal pasteurization did for milk decades ago.
Ronald F. Eustice, Consultant





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