Is X-ray Technology Safe For Food Inspection?
A correctly set up and calibrated X-ray system can help you reach superior quality standards , build a strong and trusted brand name, and save a lot of money in your production line. Still, there are many uncertainties regarding the capability of this type of inspection systems, and also about the safety impact it has on food. So is X-ray technology safe for food inspection?
The short answer is: YES! However, as specialists in the safety & quality inspection industry, we have science and extended expertise backing up this answer. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly happens when radiation interferes with food products.
DOES IRRADIATION MAKE FOOD RADIOACTIVE?
NO! Irradiation does not make food radioactive. Everything in our environment, including food, contains trace amounts of radioactivity. This means that this trace amount (about 150 to 200 becquerels/kg) of natural radioactivity from elements such as for example potassium is unavoidable in our daily diets.
The maximum allowable energies for electrons and X-rays from the two machine-generated sources of radiation that can be used, are 10 million electron volts (MeV) and 5 MeV, respectively. Even when foods are exposed to very high doses of radiation from these sources, the maximum level of radioactivity would be just one-thousandth of a becquerel per kilogram of food. This is 200,000 times smaller than the level of radioactivity naturally present in food.
CAN IRRADIATED FOOD BECOME TOXIC?
NO! Since the late 1940s, irradiated food was considered to require careful toxicological investigation before this process could be applied to food manufacturing. In actual fact, it was firmly concluded by a study conducted in Germany as far back as 1926 that irradiation did not produce any toxic factors in animal diets.
The standard procedure for this purpose was to feed the foodstuff to be tested to laboratory animals and look for possible effects of longevity, reproductive capacity, tumour incidence, and other indicators of the animals’ health status.
These evaluations together with those carried out independently by national expert groups in Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Japan, the United Kingdom and the USA demonstrated no toxic effects as a result of consuming irradiated food. Another expert committee evaluated for the WHO in 1992 all literature and data which had been available since 1980; as a consequence, the previous findings were reconfirmed.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN RADIATION INTERFERES WITH FOOD PRODUCTS ?
Food irradiation is the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation to destroy microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, or insects that might be present in the food. Further applications include sprout inhibition, delay of ripening, increase of juice yield, and improvement of rehydration. Irradiated food does not become radioactive, but in some cases there may be subtle chemical changes.
Food irradiation acts by damaging the target organism’s DNA beyond its ability to repair. Microorganisms can no longer proliferate and continue their malignant or pathogenic activities. Spoilage-causing microorganisms cannot continue their activities. Insects do not survive, or become incapable of reproduction. Plants cannot continue their natural ripening processes.
EXAMPLES – FOOD IRRADIATION
Low Dose Applications (up to 1 kGy)
Sprout inhibition in bulbs and tubers 0.03-0.15 kGy
Delay in fruit ripening 0.25-0.75 kGy
Insect disinfection including quarantine treatment and elimination of food borne parasites 0.07-1.00 kGy
Medium Dose Applications (1 kGy to 10 kGy)
Reduction of spoilage microbes to prolong shelf-life of meat, poultry and seafoods under refrigeration 1.50–3.00 kGy
Reduction of pathogenic microbes in fresh and frozen meat, poultry and seafoods 3.00–7.00 kGy
Reducing the number of microorganisms in spices to improve hygienic quality 10.00 kGy
High Dose Applications (above 10 kGy)
Sterilization of packaged meat, poultry, and their products that are shelf stable without refrigeration 25.00-70.00 kGy
Sterilization of Hospital diets 25.00-70.00 kGy
Product improvement as increased juice yield or improved re-hydration 25.00-70.00 kGy
ARE CHEMICAL CHANGES IN IRRADIATED FOOD, SUCH AS THE FORMATION OF "RADIOLYTIC" PRODUCTS, HARMFUL?
Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are the main components of foods. These macronutrients provide energy and serve as building blocks for the growth and maintenance of the body. Extensive research has shown that carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, undergo little change during irradiation even at doses over 10 kGy. Similarly, the essential amino acids, minerals, trace elements and most vitamins do not suffer significant losses.
The so-called “radiolytic” products produced in irradiated food have proven to be familiar ones, such as glucose, formic acid, acetaldehyde, and carbon dioxide, that are naturally present in foods or are formed by thermal processing (thermolytic products).
The safety of these radiolytic products has been examined very critically, and no evidence of their harmfulness has been found. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has estimated that the total amount of undetected radiolytic products that might be formed when food is irradiated at a dose of 1 kGy would be less than 3 milligrams per kilogram of food or less than 3 parts per million.
In conclusion, radioactivity exists naturally,and radiation is widely used in different dose application for insects disinfectant, reduction of spoilage microbes or pathogenic microbes and sterilization of meat. Any use of X-ray technology is highly regulated and therefore requires special training and safety measures, precisely with the purpose of ensuring a safe use of the solution, and benefit from its capabilities of detecting foreign bodies and material in food, representing real hazards with the potential of jeopardizing consumers’ health and safety.