Nutrition Research Paper on Food Irradiation

Food Irradiation

Introduction Statement of the Problem

Food irradiation refers to the case where foodstuffs are treated using radiation energy generated from ionizing particles with an aim of removing harmful microorganisms that can be present in them and also to increase the shelf life of these food products. This technique of food treatment involves exposing bulk or packed foodstuffs to ionizing radiation energy obtained from Cobalt-60 gamma, electron beam or X-rays accelerators and the amount of radiation energy varies in different foods as regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (Mollins, 2001). The application of food irradiation as a technique of food treatment raises several questions of concern amongst people. Some of the most debated questions include; what health impacts, both short term and long term does this process of food treatment bring about? How this process affects the nutritional value of food? How does it affect the amounts and quality of food? This paper will look at how the above questions of concern have been addressed and it will also review the financial advantages and disadvantages of this technique as well as the special considerations given during production, packaging, transporting and during handling of radio-active food.

Literature Review

Radiation from radioactive materials are said to have a great potential of causing harmful effects on human body. The harmful effects take place due to presence of ionizing radiations such as alpha and beta particles, gamma rays and activated neutrons resulting from decomposing of the radioactive material. The point to which the body is harmed is related on the amounts of the radiation released, the type of radiation and the distance to which the radiations are able to get to the body organs.According to Farkas and Mohacsi (2011) consumption of food treated by irradiation technique can lead to radiation toxicity in human body especially in situations where the radio active food is consumed in large amounts. The radiation poisoning causes breakdown of cells by destroying the DNA and the important molecules that make up the cell in different tissues. Radiation poisoning that occurs as result of exposure to small doses of radiation in consumed radioactive food over a period of time is called chronic radiation poisoning whereas radiation poisoning which takes place in a short duration of time as a result of consuming food with high level of radiation is called acute radiation poisoning.

 Farkas and Mohacsi adds that intake of food treated by irradiation can be one factor which leads to cancer development in body since even the small  traces of radiation present in irradiated food has the potential of cell functions and the genetic make up in it. On the other hand, some scientist argue that during food irradiation process, only very low levels of radiation energy are permuted to go through the food and thus these minimal amounts of radiation cannot have the ability to initiate development of cancer in the body. The scientists supporting this technique also argue that irradiated food cannot be a risk factor to cancer development since the food being treated is placed far from the radiation source and they state that food treated by irradiation cannot therefore be the second source of radiations (Satin, 1996).

Mollins (2001) explains that experiments have shown that the composition of food treated by irradiation method is chemically altered since the radiations used initiate breakdown of the constituents making up that food and this breakdown results to formation of radiolytic substances, which have been considered not to be harmful to human health. Free radicals are also said to be produced due to breakdown of the food molecules by the radiation energy and these particles have also been identified to be of no harm. Irradiation process does not interfere with the initial flavor, taste or texture of the foodstuff undergoing this treatment and thus the effects of irradiation on food quality are of little significant. Similarly, irradiation process does not affect the quantity of bulk or packaged food undergoing the treatment since the initial weight of the foodstuff remain the same even after treatment.

From several studies and experiments conducted, it have been evaluated that treating food by irradiation method only have very minimal effects on the nutritional value on food undergoing the treatment since the food is only exposed to little amount of radiation energy which does not have the ability to interfere with the nutritional value. Exceptions of foodstuffs whose nutritional value can be altered are those that contain vitamin B whereby small levels of this vitamin and specifically thiamine are lost. It has been noted that any alteration in nutritional composition by irradiation is almost the same as seen in pasteurization and cooking. Irradiation also has been said to cause little effects on the available proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals percentages in food (Kume, 2009).

Foods treated by irradiation technique have prolonged shelf life and they can be stored for longer period of time as compared to time it would have stayed in its natural form. This can be identified as financial advantage to both the foodstuff industry and consumer since the rate of spoilage will have reduced and therefore no costs will be incurred in replacement of spoilt food as it have been preserved. On the hand, food that have treated by irradiation technology are sold at an extra price and the increased price as a result of costs incurred during treatment process which must be compensated for so as the food industry performing the process does not go at loss.

The foods to be treated by irradiation must be packed into specialized materials such as Nitrocellulose-coated cellophane, Glassine paper, Wax-coated paperboard, Polyolefin film, Kraft paper, Polyethylene terephthalate film paper, Polystyrene film, Rubber hydrochloride film, Nylon 11 and Vegetable parchment among others. The amount of radiation to be exposed to the foodstuff under treatment varies depending on the material used in which it is put. During packaging, labeling is the key thing put into consideration. The container in which the irradiated food is contained must be labeled as stipulated by the organization of food and drug administration; that the packaging should have a label giving information to the consumers that the food is irradiated. Irradiated food is transported and handled in a similar way to the other types of food treated using other methods of food preservation (Sommer and Fan, 2006).

Food irradiation technique as a mode of food treatment has been a hot debate for years. There are those customers that appreciate and perceive that this technique has contributed much in eliminating harmful micro-organisms as well as increasing the shelf- life of food. On the other hand, there are those who feel that irradiation technique should not practiced basing there argument that food treated using this technology is also radioactive and thus a threat to human health.

Analysis of the Problem

Most of findings in the literature clearly indicate that food irradiation technique is of more benefit to the society as a mode of food treatment and preservation. I propose that the use of this technique should be encouraged since the outcome of using this technique is for more good as compared to harm. It has been clearly outlined that irradiation technique removes harmful micro-organisms that might be present in food and at the same time, it increase the shelf life of foodstuffs thereby reducing the rate at which spoilage takes place. The most interesting and advantageous fact about irradiation technique is that it can be used to treat large amounts of food when there are in season such that they will be preserved and stored to be used when they are out of season.

Those who oppose use of irradiation technique justify their argument by stating that the irradiated food can act as secondary source of radiation. This argument has been challenged by those supporting this technique by clearly stating that the reduced amount of radiation passed through the food under treatment is not capable of accumulating in the food and thus the irradiated food cannot act as a source of secondary radiation.

 I also believe that the organization of Food and Drug Administration is doing an excellent work to protect the public by controlling and limiting the usage of irradiation on food.  I think requiring the companies to mention the food being irradiated in the label is an excellent requirement by the FDA for the consumers right to know if the food they are purchasing is irradiated or not.

Impacts on Food Service System

 Food irradiation technique has increased productivity in food service system. Food irradiation technique facilitates a way in which bulk foodstuffs can be treated for preservation to be used in future. The irradiated foodstuffs can therefore be produced in large volumes and packaged to be used over long time of period and this ensures that food industry does not run of products to distribute even when the food is not season. Several research that have been done have shown that irradiation has  the ability to  be applied to minimize high post-harvest losses of products like roots and tubers, dried meat and fish and it also enables microbiological preservation of spices and dried vegetable seasonings, and to inhibit insect invasion of fresh and dried fruits which are to exported (Pearson, 1976).

On the other hand, food irradiation technique can be said to have increased the budget cost of food service system since extra cost is incurred when putting in place the irradiation facility as well as maintaining it. The food irradiation process also requires qualified and trained personnel which can contribute to increased cost of production since some extra cost will be incurred when training the personnel.

Over the recent years, use of irradiated food an area under debate around the world and some people still feel that it should not be applied in treatment of food despite the clearly outlined reasons of why food irradiation is an important technique of food treatment.  Among the key benefits of food irradiation technology are; it eliminates dangerous micro organisms that might be present in food, delay ripening  of fruits and also increases the shelf-life of  some foodstuffs. Among the reasons that some people fear using irradiated food is that it can be factor exposing one to develop cancer with the argument that it might contain radiations that can interfere with cells of body. From the reviewed literature, food irradiation technique is seen to be of benefit in the food service system as it can enable preservation of perishable food in large bulks and this enhances food security.


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