Sign Up: Writer | Buyer
Contact Us

Empire State Building
350 Fifth Ave, Suite 7313
New York, NY 10118
phone: (800) 704-6512

Price: $25.00
Minor modifications of this article are permitted to adjust to the available space or to the publication’s editorial style.
Eat Your Spinach -- Irradiated Food Is Better for You Than You Think
by Kathryn E. Kelly, Dr.P.H.
Kathryn Kelly is a toxicologist based at Lake Tahoe.

Great news for your health -- beginning today, the US Food and Drug Administration says your spinach and iceberg lettuce can be irradiated to kill certain bacteria. Why should you care? Because irradiating food is better than the alternative, which is food contaminated with E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, Toxoplasma or other multisyllabic biological agents making the headlines regularly lately.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these organisms currently cause millions of infections and thousands of hospitalizations in the United States every year from people getting violently sick. Yes, people actually die from eating everyday foods like hamburger, unpasteurized fruit juice, and spinach unknowingly contaminated with bacteria, viruses, insects, and microorganisms. And all destroyed in with irradiation in about two seconds.

Activist groups such as Public Citizen say irradiating foods just masks filthy conditions in slaughterhouses which cause meat to be contaminated with bacteria that cause illness. I can’t control what goes on in slaughterhouses, but if I can keep undetected contamination out of my kids’ food by buying safely irradiated products, I will. The alarmists say irradiation forms new chemicals in food that are known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects; well, so does grilling a steak on the barbecue. They say irradiating food destroys vitamins and other essential nutrients, and corrupts the flavor, odor and texture of food. Sadly, so does my cooking, and the experts still think we are better off with irradiated food. As reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, “irradiation kills or markedly reduces counts of food pathogens without impairing the nutritional value of the food or making it toxic, carcinogenic, or radioactive.”

Activists raise a host of other objections, but fail to see the big picture, which is that food contamination will increase with growing populations, and the time to deal with that is now. Although we wish it were otherwise, no amount of oversight or control or wishing will be able to prevent outbreaks of bacterial or viral contamination, particularly with the increasing numbers of humans, animals (and their feces) and agriculture living in close proximity to one another, and clean water becoming less plentiful. Especially when the Chilean grapes or Mexican strawberries we love are grown in other countries other than the US, over which the FDA has limited control.

Do I want my kids to eat irradiated food? Not particularly. Do I want them to get sick from produce contaminated by cow, pig or other feces? Definitely not. But which is more likely? We know thousands of people get sick and even die from pig poop each year -- but we can’t point to a case of anyone who has ever gotten sick from eating irradiated foods. And we are all eating a lot of irradiated foods these days (albeit mostly unintentionally and unawares).

Have you already been exposed to irradiated food? Very likely. We are all exposed to food and products that have been irradiated for our safety, apparently without any ill effects, since wheat flour was first approved for irradiation in 1963 in the US to control the growth of mold. Over 500,000 metric tons of foods are currently estimated to be irradiated each year in 40 countries. Sometimes you can tell food has been irradiated from the green Radura symbol on the package; sometimes you can’t, as in a restaurant. And do you have a heart stent or an artificial hip, or does your baby use a pacifier? It is probably one of millions of medical devices that have been sterilized by irradiation for several decades. In the US today, it’s mostly fresh tropical fruit from Hawaii or Florida, dehydrated spices and ground meat products that are irradiated.

Although public acceptance of irradiation is increasing, the irradiated food folks need to find a name for this process that does not sound like we are serving nuclear waste at the dinner table. As the FDA says, irradiation does not make foods radioactive any more than an airport luggage scanner makes luggage radioactive, but that misses the point that no one wants to go feet-first through a luggage scanner. “Cold pasteurization” is one name being bantered about because the effects on improving food safety are similar to the effects of pasteurization, without the food being heated to high temperatures. Others understandably object on the grounds that irradiation is not pasteurization.

But the bottom line is, by whatever name you call it, irradiation works. According to the CDC, irradiation of high-risk foods could prevent up to a million cases of bacterial foodborne disease that result in 900,000 infections, 8,500 hospitalizations, over 6,000 catastrophic illnesses, and 350 deaths each year -- in the US alone. Let’s start now.

Further reading:

American Council on Science and Health.

CDC, Food Irradiation,

FDA. Food Irradiation: A Safe Measure.

Maki, Dennis. Don’t Eat the Spinach – Controlling Foodborne Infectious Disease.

Public Citizen. Why Oppose Food Irradiation?

Tauxe, Robert V. Food Safety and Irradiation: Protecting the Public from Foodborne Infections.

Wikipedia. Food Irradiation.

Published: Aug 23,2008 20:09
Bookmark and Share
You may flag this article with care.


Featured Authors
Andy Cowan
Andy Cowan, an award-winning writer, whose credits include Cheers and Seinfeld, regularly contributes humor pieces to the Los Angeles Times and the CBS Jack FM Radio Network.
Paul M. J. Suchecki
Paul M. J. Suchecki has more than 30 years of experience as an award winning writer, producer, and cameraman. He's written numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Currently he writes, produces and shoots for LA CityView Channel 35 and his more than 250 articles for are approaching half a million readers.
Coby Kindles
Coby Kindles is a freelance journalist, screenplay writer and essayist. She has been a staff writer at Knight Ridder and a regular contributor to The Associated Press.
Debbie Milam
Debbie Milam is a syndicated columnist for United Press International, an occupational therapist, family success consultant, and motivational speaker with more than 20 years experience. Her work on stress management, spirituality, parenting, and special-needs children has been featured in over 300 media outlets including First for Women, The Miami Herald, Elle, Ladies Home Journal, The Hallmark Channel, PBS and WebMD.
Dan Rafter
Dan Rafter has covered the residential real estate industry for more than 15 years. He has contributed real estate stories to the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Business 2.0 Magazine, Home Magazine, Smart HomeOwner Magazine and many others.
Jack Nargundkar
Jack Nargundkar has been repeatedly published in Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. He is also an author of "The Bush Diaries" published in July 2005.