The International Writers Magazine: (On Food Irradiation)
How safe are those ionized mangoes?
Irradiation is one of the most significant, revolutionary, and controversial advances in the process of foods preservation; every day people are concerned with the type and quality of foods that they consume, and questions are emerging. How safe are those sweet mangoes that you tried today? Are they nutritious? Were they irradiated? Is this dangerous? Radiation is relatively new.
Food susceptibility to ionizing elements was a subject of intense and detailed exploration for many scientists. Some procedures associated with radiation were a success, quickly becoming an alternative to other forms of preservation. Parallel with those advances, there were questions concerning the possible dangers to human health of ionizing food.
Food irradiation is the process by which foods are exposed to short waves of ultraviolet rays or calculated doses of chemical isotopes such as cobalt 60 in order to sterilize them. It is a process that continuous to be evaluated around the world; some countries in Europe have suspended it because of the high risk that it may represent to consumers.
The introduction of irradiated foods to the public has been a slow process; the principal groups that companies target are immunodeficient patients, hospitals, and astronauts. This last group has been using irradiated foods for long time space explorations.
Organic material exposed to any kind of radiation can be severely altered because gamma rays denaturalized proteins. This process has been an excellent weapon against bacteria, insects, and parasites, but can alter sensitive genetic material of the irradiated food, and for this reason this procedure poses a hazard to human health.
Food irradiation represents a hazard to health because it produces radiolitic molecules, chromosome disruption, and loss of foods’ nutritional values. Radiolitic products are a secondary effect or irradiation, molecules such as hydroxyl radicals, superoxide radicals, and hydrated electrons are extremely unstable and they tend to combine to more complex chemicals like lipids; compounds generated by those additions can be carcinogenic and they can also affect the nutritional values.
In addition to the radiolitic formation, and chromosome disruptions, gamma rays changed the chemical structure of main molecules like vitamins, proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates; ionizing rays can transform complex carbohydrates into simple particles decreasing the quality of fruits and vegetables by destroying their cell walls a process known as carbohydrates depolymerization.
A particular improvement of irradiation over other preservation methods is the shelf-life extension that this process gives to some products; some foods can maintain their color, odor, texture, and flavor for many months. As well as it can eradicate microbes that generate spoilage of meat, seafood, and poultry, expanding the time of these products for harmless consumption.
In contrast with other preservation processes, radiation effectiveness resides in some factors like type of microorganisms, dose, time of exposure to radiation, and environmental conditions. For example, viruses are less susceptible to irradiation than bacteria. At the same time, bacteria are more resistant than insects and parasites.
Irradiation is an exceptional method of food preservation that is promising great benefits to food producers, exporters, and consumers. Since the 19th century, gamma rays have been an area under constant inquiry for many scientists in all areas but especially in medicine and food quality.
There are many pros and cons in this procedure and many scientists and communities agree that better research is necessary in order to educate people about the advantages and disadvantages of irradiated foods.
As a final point, many food researchers are against food ionization because those rays can destroy remarkable factors that help to protect the body from diseases like cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Soon or later, everyone will have plenty of knowledge about food irradiation. Then, questions will come up again about safety concerns or disadvantages of gamma rays sterilization in foods. Therefore, many possible and available solutions for those concerns could be clarified through scientific research.
© Andres Botero May 2010
Balk, Sophie J. et al. “Technical Report: Irradiation of Food.” Pediatrics Dec. 2000: 1505-10.
Diehl, J.F. “Food Irradiation-Past, Present and Future.” Radiation Physics and Chemistry 63(2002): 211-215.
Steele, J.H. “Food Irradiation: A Public Health Challenge for the 21st Century.” Clinical Infectious Diseases 1 Aug. 2001:376.
Toufexis, Anastasia. “Food Fight Over Gamma-Rays; Critics Bombard Irradiation As A Preservative.” Time 22 Sep. 1986:65.