Food irradiation is a safe, simple and inexpensive processused since the 1950s to kill harmful pathogens in many foods andto preserve their shelf life. Scientific evidence stronglysupports the safety of food irradiation, as well as the manybenefits this technology offers for consumers and food companiesalike.

The food irradiation process is quite straightforward: Food isexposed to a carefully measured amount of intense radiant energy,called ionizing radiation. This radiant energy kills parasitesand microorganisms such as E. coli and salmonella. Food irradiation can be an important foodsafety tool, and broader use of irradiation promises asignificant step forward in further improving our nation’’food safety.

Irradiation results in a safe and high-quality processed foodproduct. Pathogens in raw poultry or meat can be reduced by 99.9%by a low “pasteurization” dose of radiation. Irradiatedfoods closely resemble foods in their fresh state. Becauseirradiation does not substantially raise the temperature of thefood being processed, nutrient losses are small. Irradiationproduces so little chemical change in food that it is difficultto design a test to determine whether a food has been irradiated.1

Congress defined the sources of ionizing energy as food additives and included them in the Food Additives Amendment to The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). The actdelegates primary regulatory responsibility to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). TheFood Safety and Inspection Service and the Animal and PlantHealth Inspection Service are two agencies within the US Department of Agriculture(USDA) that are involved in the process as well. The Food Safetyand Inspection Service develops standards for the safe use ofirradiation on meat and poultry products. The Animaland Plant Health Inspection Service monitors programsdesigned to enhance animal and plant health.

The prominence of disclosure requirements for food productstreated with irradiation unduly mislead and intimidate consumersfrom irradiated foods. These current labeling regulations createa false impression that the irradiation statement is a warning.Broader use and consumer acceptance of irradiation could helpsignificantly reduce the incidence of foodborne pathogens andimprove food safety.

FDA has repeatedly stated that the method of development of afood product is not a material fact that requires disclosure.Existing law, however, does permit FDA to require a separatedisclosure that a food or food component has been subject toirradiation.

Currently, the international symbol for irradiation isrequired to be prominently and conspicuously displayed, alongwith a label statement for irradiated foods. Dr. Michael Parizafrom the University of Wisconsin testified before the Commerce Committee that thislabel disclosure requirement is perceived as a warning,effectively preventing widespread access to irradiated products.

Prominence of disclosure requirements for irradiated foodproducts create a false impression that consumers need to be”warned” that the food has been treated by the foodsafety technique. This essentially scares consumers frompurchasing these products and increases the chances of foodborneillness outbreaks.


NFPA supports food irradiation as a safe and beneficial technology that can benefit consumers and the food industry by providing a tool for further improving our nation’s food safety. Its availability for use by the meat industry before now might have reduced the need for recently publicized recalls involving hamburger meat.

NFPA urges that prominence of disclosure requirements for irradiated food products be amended, so that the disclosure would not need to be more prominent than the declaration of ingredients. Consumers would continue to be informed whether the foods they purchase have been irradiated, but the prominence of the disclosure will not be so bold as to create the false impression that the statement is a warning. This change is necessary to encourage consumer acceptance of irradiation to increase the availability of foods treated with this safe and effective technology.

Food Irradiation, Elizabeth L. Andress, Keith S.Delaplane, George A. Schule, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Food Irradiation, University of Michigan, 1997.

 Irradiation FAQ’s

1Position of The American Dietetic Association:Food Irradiation, The American Dietetic Association, Chicago,Illinois, 1997.