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Institute of Food Science & Technology Information Statement on Food Irradiation


The Use of Irradiation for Food Quality and Safety

The Institute of Food Science and Technology, through its Public Affairs and Technical and Legislative Committees, has authorised the following Information Statement, dated February 2006, replacing that of 11 December 1998.

The following is a summary. The full text may be accessed at


Irradiation, carried out under conditions of Good Manufacturing Practice, is commended as an effective, widely applicable food processing method judged to be safe on extensive available evidence, that can reduce the risk of food poisoning, control food spoilage and extend the shelf-life of foods without detriment to health and with minimal effect on nutritional or sensory quality. This view has been endorsed by international bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agricultural Organisation and Codex Alimentarius.

To date, more than 50 countries have given approval for over 60 products to be irradiated. The USA, South Africa, The Netherlands, Thailand and France are among the leaders in adopting the technology. Currently regulations on food irradiation in the European Union are not fully harmonised. Directive 1999/2/EC establishes a framework for controlling irradiated foods, their labelling and importation, while Directive 1999/3 establishes an initial positive list of foods which may be irradiated and traded freely between Member States. However, this initial positive list has only one food category – dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings. Some countries, such as Belgium, France, The Netherlands and the UK allow other foods to be irradiated, whereas other countries, such as Denmark, Germany and Luxembourg remain opposed. Within the UK seven categories of foods are cleared for irradiation to specified doses. Regulations across the world make provision for labelling to ensure that consumers are fully informed whether foods or ingredients within them have been irradiated.

Food irradiation is slowly gaining consumer acceptance in the US and several other countries but it is slow to gain support within many parts of Europe, including the UK, where the Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends no extension of application. Many consumers are initially hostile to irradiation but when the process is explained to them they become generally more in favour. There is a role for respected professional bodies to inform consumers of the advantages and limitations of the technology so that they can make informed decisions on buying and eating irradiated foods.

Ralph Blanchfield | alfa
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