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Scientifically assessing irradiated foods

Irradiation is a highly effective manner in which to destroy bacteriological contaminants as well as extend the shelf life of food products. High speed X- rays or Gamma Rays are used to bombard meat, for example, in order to kill harmful bacteria. While this may be the case, irradiation has not currently met with much consumer confidence.

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Much controversy over irradiated food exists. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared irradiated foods as safe to consume, while others feel that there is some evidence to suggest otherwise. However, while this process may offer some advantages, consumers are still wary of irradiated products. In an effort to alleviate consumer concerns proposals for European Community legislations are being discussed that seek to ascertain reliable methods to assess irradiated food substances. Irradiation changes chemical structures but not nucleonic changes thus ionised food does not become radioactive in the process. Roughly fifty laboratories across the EC are involved in assessing deoxyribonucleic (DNA) based methods along with microbial, biological, chemical and physical methods for testing of irradiated food substances. These tests also looked into such factors as potential toxicity, nutritional value and the potential for re-contamination after irradiation. There are several methods that have been designed and tested, including DNA testing for screening large quantities of spice, herb and poultry samples. An electron spin resonance method for meat, fish bones, food collection cellulose and also applicable to dried fruit. An additional gas phase chromatographic method for foods containing lipids has also been developed. In the above cases, all have lead to protocols for identifying irradiated foodstuffs that have been adopted by the European Committee of Standardisation. These tests should go a long way in gaining consumer confidence that no harmful effects are to be gained from irradiated foods.

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