Go to CNF homepage
The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To Health Canada regarding proposals to expand the list of foods approved for food irradiation:

2003 January 28

I am pleased to see that Health Canada is considering expanding the list of foods approved for the ionizing-radiation preservation process. There is a much broader class of foods approved for "food irradiation", of course, since that general term is an apt description of microwave cooking.

Given the efficacy with which ionizing radiation destroys the E. Coli. and salmonella bacteria, it is almost criminal that we don't, as a species, do this routinely to every ounce of red meat and chicken sold on the market.

Opposition to ionizing radiation as a food preservative is largely based on misunderstanding and fear, and I hope that continuing public education efforts by various parties will help to alleviate this. In particular, the fear of toxic by-products from the irradiation process is disproportionate to the relative public concern for by-products of other food preservation processes such as heating (yet another form of irradiation) and chemical treatment.

The fear is largely that of radiation itself, by which most refer tacitly to ionizing radiation such as that emitted by nuclear bombs and spent nuclear fuel. Again, there is no proportionate fear of less energetic, but no less harmful, forms of electromagnetic radiation such as that emitted at the beloved ultraviolet and microwave frequencies (for suntanning and cooking, respectively).

Making matters worse is a common misconception that the ionizing-radiation food preservation process leaves the food itself radioactive. While this misconception should be countered strongly, I think most people would find it additionally enlightening to learn that many foods and other items found in the home, including its human occupants, are naturally radioactive (albeit not enough to self-sterilize). For example, the following quantities of common items contain enough naturally-radioactive potassium-40 to require a license from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), had that same quantity of K-40 been isolated within a regulated nuclear industrial or laboratory setting: 230 g of granite, 700 g of sodium-free table salt (KCl), 1 kg of cement, 3 kg of dry wallboard, 50 kg of Brazil nuts, 60 kg of lima beans, 80 kg of bananas, 80 kg of white potatoes, 80 kg of carrots, 80 kg of wood, 90 kg of red meat, and 700 litres of beer.


Jeremy Whitlock

[Back to The Canadian Nuclear FAQ]