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For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Food Safety page, Farm Issues page, Factory Farm page and our Information on Food Irradiation page.

While we all agree that the food industry needs to be able to deliver food free of disease-causing pathogens like E. coli and salmonella, there is no real agreement on exactly how to do that. Irradiation, one of the most controversial of these techniques, is a 50-year-old method that involves exposing the foods to low levels of gamma radiation. This has the effect of killing most (but not all) bacteria on the food (though research indicates it has minimal effect on virus and prions, aka the stuff that causes Mad Cow).

Generally speaking, only a small set of irradiated foods are commercially available; some spices, some mail-order ground beef, and some tropical fruits like mango, papaya, and guava make the grade. But the list of foods legally approved for radiation treatment is actually quite long. From the USDA:

Fresh meat and poultry including whole or cut up birds, skinless poultry, pork chops, roasts, stew meat, liver, hamburgers, ground meat, and ground poultry are approved for irradiation.

U.S. food regulations also allow the irradiation of wheat and wheat powder, white potatoes, many spices, dry vegetable seasonings, fresh shell eggs, and fresh produce.