Contributing to Food Safety

March 24, 2014

March is National Nutrition Month. Learn about food irradiation and how it contributes to making our food supply safer.

Food irradiation is the process of exposing food to a carefully controlled amount of energy called ionizing radiation in order to destroy harmful bacteria, eliminate insects and extend shelf life.

The RADURA symbolImage: The RADURA symbol identifies food that has been irradiated.

In Canada, onions, potatoes, wheat, flour, whole wheat flour, and whole or ground spices and dehydrated seasonings are approved for irradiation and sale.

Health Canada has completed a scientific review of four proposed new uses for food irradiation, including for poultry and ground beef.

Technologies

Three technologies are used to irradiate food: gamma rays (from cobalt-60 sources), electron beams, and x-rays.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's role

All food irradiators that use gamma rays are classified as Class II nuclear facilities. These must be licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to operate.

Based on the energy of the radiation beam used, other types of irradiator facilities can also be classified as Class II nuclear facilities.

These facilities must be inspected regularly by the CNSC, to ensure they meet the requirements of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and CNSC regulations.

Debunking the myths

  • Food irradiation does not make food radioactive.
  • Food irradiation does not change the nutritional value of food.

Did you know?

Irradiation has been used for years as sterilization technique on medical disposables and hospital supplies, food packaging materials, cosmetics ingredients and joint implants.

Historical perspective

Food irradiation is not a new technology and has taken place in Canada for many years. Canada was one of the first countries to irradiate food, leading the way in using nuclear in yet another beneficial way. Canada first began irradiating potatoes in 1960 and onions followed in 1965.

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