What Foods Can Be Irradiated?


Dose Permitted (kGy)

Purpose of Irradiation

Astronaut food

45+ kGy

Safety, quality


30 kGy

Control illness-causing micro-organisms

Red Meat

4.5/7 kGy

Control illness-causing micro-organisms


3 kGy

Control illness-causing micro-organisms

Shell Eggs

3 kGy

Control illness-causing micro-organisms

Sprouts seeds

8 kGy

Control illness-causing micro-organisms


1 kGy

Control illness-causing micro-organisms

Any Food

1 kGy

Quarantine control

FDA Approved Irradiation of Meat for Pathogen Control in 1997. USDA Approved in 1999.

The Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation of meat products for controlling disease-causing micro-organisms on December 3, 1997. The approval applies to fresh and frozen red meats such as beef, lamb and pork. USDA approved irradiation in December, 1999.

"Irradiation of meat could prove to be another important tool to protect consumers from food-borne disease," said Michael A. Friedman, M.D., Lead Deputy FDA Commissioner. "The process has been shown to be safe and to significantly reduce bacterial contamination."

This approval is based on FDA's thorough scientific review of a substantial number of studies conducted worldwide on the effects of irradiation on a wide variety of meat products. Approval is based entirely on an evaluation of safety. Potential benefits can not be considered. The safety evaluation included examination of the chemical effects of radiation, impact on nutrient content of irradiated products, potential toxicity concerns, and effects on microorganisms in or on irradiated products. FDA concluded that irradiation is safe in reducing disease-causing microbes in or on meats, and that it does not compromise the nutritional quality of treated products

Food products are treated by subjecting them to radiation from radioactive or machine sources. (See How Irradiation Work) Irradiation does not make food radioactive, nor does it noticeably change taste, texture, or appearance.

Petitions are under FDA review for irradiation of processed meat (hot dogs, luncheon meats, etc.), seafood, and other foods.

How people have responded to the FDA approval of meat

Realistically, all safety concerns have been answered. Dr. Sherwood Gorbach, Tufts University School of Medicine , and member American Gastroenterological Association Committee on food safety

Even if only ground beef was irradiated, it would save lots of lives. Dr. Donald Thayer, USDA, Director of Food Safety

This is a victory for consumers and the red meat industry. I know for a fact that there is sincere interest on the part of the meat industry processors, retailers, and food service operators. Patrick Boyle, President and CEO, American Meat Institute

The introduction of irradiated meat will be as important to public health as the advent of pasteurized milk and chlorinated water. Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, Minnesota Department of Public Health, Retired

Irradiated red meat might cost an extra three to six cents a pound but its shelf life would be extended by about 10 days. Dr. Jim Dixon, Iowa State University, Ames

Our feeling is that the industry should clean up its product as much as possible. If that fails to provide safe food, then they certainly should provide irradiation. But irradiation should be a last resort. Dr. Michael Jacobson, Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Food irradiation is a safe, simple and relatively inexpensive process which has been available since the 1950s to kill harmful pathogens in many foods and to enhance their shelf life. John R. Cady, President, National Food Processors Assn.

The decision is good news for consumers. Attention now should be turned to helping consumers understand the benefits of irradiation for themselves and their families. C. Manly Molpus, President, Grocery Manufacturers of America

In order to maintain the safest food supply in the world, the beef industry needs the flexibility to use new technologies as they become available. Van Amundson of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association 

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