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Food & Water Watch

U.S. Food Irradiation FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions About Food Irradiation


What is food irradiation?

Irradiation exposes food to a high dose of ionizing radiation, which comes from one of three sources: electron beam (electricity), cobalt 60 (nuclear waste byproduct), or cesium 137 (also a nuclear waste byproduct). It is intended to kill bacteria such as E.coli or Salmonella. It also extends shelf-life. However, studies have shown it depletes the nutritional content of food as well as leaving behind chemical byproducts in the food that can lead to promotion of cancer development and birth defects.

How can I tell if my food has been irradiated?

If you buy your food at the grocery store, it is required to be labeled with the radura symbol. It looks like this a green flower and has the words “treated with irradiation”. If you are buying a prepared food with multiple ingredients from the store, like frozen lasagna, look at the ingredients list to see if any of the ingredients have been irradiated. But if you order food in a restaurant, cafeteria or eat it at school, there are no laws requiring labeling.

Is my local school serving irradiated food?

Currently,it is highly unlikely. For the 2005-06 school year, no states requested irradiated ground beef (the only irradiated product available) from the USDA on behalf of their school districts. As far as we know, no school is receiving irradiated food through the federal nutrition programs, although they do not have to label it if they do serve it. There is a slim possibility that schools could purchase irradiated food from a vendor outside of the USDA. Contact your school food service director to find out if they are serving irradiated food, and express your opposition to any attempt to do so.


How do Irradiators Work?

Irradiation facilities use gamma rays, x-rays, or electron beams to irradiate food. Click here to find out more.


Which foods can be irradiated?

Food Date Approved
Bacon February 1963
Wheat flour and potatoes October 1964
Bacon approval rescinded August 1968
Garlic powder, onion powder and dried spices July 1983
Additional dried spices, herbs and vegetable seasonings, including blends April 1985
Dry and hydrated enzymes June 1985
Pork July 1985
Fruit and vegetables April 1986
Increase maximum radiation dose for spices, herbs and vegetable seasonings April 1986
Poultry May 1990
Beef, lamb, pork and horsemeat, and byproducts December 1997
Fresh shell eggs July 2000
Sprouting seeds October 2000
Fruit and vegetable juices November 2000
Imported fruit and vegetables October 2002
Ready-to-eat foods (i.e. deli meats, frozen foods, packaged salads) Pending
Molluscan shellfish (i.e. clams, oysters, mussels) Pending
Crustacean shellfish (i.e. shrimp, crabs, lobster) Pending
Increase maximum radiation dose for poultry Pending
Unrefrigerated beef, lamb, pork and house meat, and byproducts Pending



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