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EFSA scientists share results on food irradiation

After assessing food irradiation, scientists say it shouldn’t be the only tool the industry relies on to reduce pathogens in food


Parma, Italy – Scientists with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have concluded that irradiating foods does not pose any microbiological risks for consumers.

But the scientists add that to protect consumers irradiation should be part of an integrated food safety management program, which includes good agricultural, manufacturing and hygienic practices.

Assessment

EFSA’s scientists looked at the efficacy and microbiological safety of the process and at possible risks arising from the formation of several chemical substances as a result of food irradiation.

Using it on food is effective, but there are other processes the industry can use to reduce the presence of pathogens in food.

The scientists also say that most of the substances formed in food by irradiation are also formed during other types of processing, such as in the heat treatment of foods.

New evidence needs further research

The only new evidence pointing to possible adverse health effects concerns some recent studies reporting neurological problems in cats fed exclusively with animal feed that had been irradiated at extremely high doses. These effects were found only in cats.

Further research would be required to assess the possible relevance of these studies for human health.

The scientists recommend that decisions on foods that can be irradiated and on the doses used should not be based only on predefined food categories, as is currently the case. They should also be based on factors such as:

• The bacteria concerned;
• The level of bacterial reduction required; and
• Whether the food is fresh, frozen, dried, or on the food’s fat or protein content.

They also say that decisions on the type of food that can be irradiated should also take into account the diversity of food products nowadays available to consumers such as ready-to-eat foods.