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WHO Publication Addresses Wholesomeness of Irradiated Food.

A group of experts convened to assess the safety and nutritional adequacy of food irradiated at doses above 10 kilograys (kGy). Growing concern over the microbiological safety of the food supply has led to calls for irradiation at these higher levels. One objective of high-dose radiation would be to ensure that food items, particularly meat and poultry, are rendered consistently free of pathogens. Other objectives include the decontamination of low-moisture products, such as spices, herbs, and dried vegetables; the preparation of sterilized meals or meal components for hospitalized patients; and the production of shelf-stable hygienic products that reduce the need for refrigeration and frozen storage and can thus facilitate safe food distribution under tropical and subtropical conditions.

With these public health applications in mind, the report draws on over four decades of research to address the complete range of questions raised by high-dose food irradiation.

The report opens with a brief history of food irradiation, its regulatory control, and the rationale for the upper limit of 10 kGy established by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1980. The importance of food irradiation as a public health technology also is briefly discussed. Against this background, Section 2, on radiation chemistry, reviews studies of the chemical changes in foods and food constituents detected after high-dose irradiation, giving particular attention to the complex physical and physicochemical processes observed in muscle foods. The experts also consider evidence that foods of similar composition show similar chemical and microbiological responses when similarly irradiated, thus supporting the validity of granting broad-based generic approvals of high-dose irradiated foods.

A section devoted to nutritional considerations reviews numerous studies of the effects high-dose irradiation has on macro- and micronutrients. Apart from confirming the commonality and predictability of radiation effects, these studies support the conclusion that irradiated foods are, from a nutritional viewpoint, substantially equivalent or superior to thermally sterilized foods.

Microbiological considerations are addressed in Section 5, which reviews the effects of irradiation on microorganisms and the factors influencing radiation resistance. Studies evaluated cover vegetative bacterial cells, animal parasites, yeasts, mold propagules, bacterial spores, viruses, and preformed microbial toxins. The report concludes that high-dose irradiation is no different from thermal processing in producing shelf-stable, microbiologically safe foods.

A section on toxicological safety reviews findings from a considerable number of animal investigations and clinical studies that have used human volunteers. These studies support the conclusion that foods irradiated by a variety of sources under a variety of conditions are toxicologically safe for human consumption.

Section 7 addresses the important role packaging plays in facilitating irradiation processing, in protecting irradiated food from recontamination, and in maintaining the quality of the food.

The final section considers the processing and environmental conditions and the control procedures essential for ensuring that a food product is sterilized within the targeted dose range.

On the basis of the extensive scientific evidence reviewed, the report concludes that food irradiated to any dose appropriate to achieve the intended technological objective is both safe to consume and nutritionally adequate. The experts further conclude that no upper dose limit need be imposed, and that irradiated foods are deemed wholesome throughout the technologically useful dose range from below 10 kGy to envisioned doses above 10 kGy.
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Article Details
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Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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