Irradiated Foods

Radura: Irradiation label

by Catherine Haug, November 5, 2011

To those of us who support the growing Organic and Local Foods movement, our main perceived bad-guy is Genetically Modified/Engineered foods (GMO/GE). But there’s another bad-guy out there: Irradiated foods (IR).

[NOTE: the Radura symbol may be green or pink; either way, it means the food has been irradiated.]

What is irradiation?

Irradiation is simply exposure to radiation from radioactive elements such as radium, uranium and so on. We are all familiar with X-rays – as mammograms, dental x-rays, chest x-rays and skeletal x-rays to name a few. 

Gamma rays and electron beams are other types of radiation related to x-rays, and all of these may be applied to foods to ‘protect’ them from bacterial and other contamination. The FDA considers irradiation as a type of ‘pasteurization’ to protect the public from food-borne illness. But like the heat treatment of pasteurization, irradiation has the potential to adversely affect the quality and healthfulness of foods to which is is applied.

The FDA argues that the health benefit of irradiation outweighs the health detriment. But is this really true? In my opinion, irradiation is a very effective medium for masking filthy and inhumane conditions in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), slaughterhouses and food processing plants. It is these operations that lobbied hard against the requirement to label irradiated foods.

Adverse health affects of food irradiation

Back in 1995, the Radiation Information Network stated “Irradiated foods are wholesome and nutritious. … At low doses of radiation, nutrient losses are either not measurable or, if they can be measured, are not significant. At the higher doses used to extend shelf-life or control harmful bacteria, nutritional losses are less than or about the same as cooking and freezing.”

Subsequent research has proven this statement to be a stretch of the truth, as irradiation produces several potentially toxic and carcinogenic substances:

  • ‘Furan,’ which has been linked to liver toxicity and carcinogenicity.
  • 2-alkylcyclobutanones (2-ACBs), which may promote tumor growth and colon cancer, and are found exclusively in irradiated foods.

What foods are irradiated?

(Green logo, right, from Wikipedia)

The most common foods in our American diet that can be irradiated are:

Radura: irradiation label

  • fresh meats and poultry (whole, cut-up, ground, skin-on, skinless)
  • prepared meats (sausages, luncheon meats, etc.)
  • fresh shell eggs
  • wheat and wheat powder
  • fresh produce
  • white potatoes
  • many spices
  • dry vegetable seasonings

Most irradiated foods must bear the Radura label – the pink or green label shown above – but some foods are exempted from this regulation:

  • Irradiated meat used in another product, such as sausage and luncheon meats (but they must list ‘irradiated meat’ in the list of ingredients);
  • Restaurants are not required to disclose the use of irradiated foods.


Avoiding irradiated foods

Generally, truly locally-grown, fresh foods are not irradiated unless they are also shipped out of the local area, so your best bet to avoid irradiated foods is to buy from small-scale, local growers you trust. Avoid processed foods (except those you process yourself); this includes boxed foods (cereals, etc.), processed meat products, frozen dinners and so on.


Avoid any food bearing the Radura label, whether pink or green.

Read the ingredients list for prepared meats such as hot dogs, luncheon meets and commercial sausage, as these are not required to bear the Radura image indicating irradiation, but are required to list ‘irradiation’ in the list of ingredients.

Avoid commercially-made products containing wheat. This includes bread, cereal, cakes, cookies, pies, and many other processed foods that use wheat and wheat byproducts as a thickener.

Avoid commercial herbs and spices. This is one instance when it really does pay to buy Organic, unless you grow it yourself.

Avoid restaurant/fast food french fries, which typically are frozen fries from a large commercial potato processor. White potatoes are on the list of foods suspect for irradiation, and restaurants do not have to disclose the use of irradiated foods.

References and for more information

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