Status Update on Food Irradiation

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Status Update on Food Irradiation

from Organic Consumers Association

February 2002

Which companies are irradiating in the US: now and in the near future

  • Companies that produce over 75% of the U.S.'s 9 billion pounds/year of ground beef and approximately 50% of the nearly 35 billion pounds/year of poultry have signed agreements to use irradiation technology. The only way to know how much of their products are irradiated now is to ask the company. Most irradiated product--primarily hamburger and chicken--is going to restaurants and other food service and is not labeled to the consumer.

  • Currently using irradiation for meat/poultry: Huisken's of Minnesota (ground beef, 22 states); Schwan’s home delivery (ground beef); Omaha Steaks; Tyson, IBP (now owned by Tyson) (ground beef), Excel (ground beef), Emmpak (ground beef), Colorado Boxed Beef (poultry); WW Johnson Meat Company (ground beef for the food service industry); the U.S. Department of Defense (ground beef and later chicken); Kenosha Beef International (ground beef; it supplies Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Target, A&W Restaurants, Dairy Queen, Hardee's, and Hot'N Now Hamburgers); Nation's Pride (chicken to restaurants and food service); Rochester Meat (ground beef products, portion cut steaks and pork, for the foodservice industry).

  • Currently using irradiation for nonmeat foods: Some Hawaiian papayas (Hawaii Classics brand); some fruits and vegetables from Florida; spices, herb teas and supplement ingredients like garlic (unknown quantities).

  • Planning to use irradiation in the near future: Miami-based Bounty Fresh, an importer and national distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables; Hormel (refrigerated meat products, like hot dogs); United Food Group (Supreme Packing Co., Miller Beef, Moran's Ground Beef) Los Angeles (ground beef products); American Foodservice Corporation, supplier for major U.S. fast food and casual dining chains including Burger King (fresh and frozen beef patties); Del Monte (products "packaged in glass or plastic," probably salad mixes or cut-up fruit); Kraft ( ready-to-eat meat products); SCIS Food Services (ready-to-eat foods). SCIS operates numerous facilities for salad, bakery, side dish and entree production throughout the USA and Mexico, including the Orval Kent Food Company, Pennant Foods, La Francaise Bakery, Ozark Salad Company, Landau Foods and I&K Distributors.

  • Interested but not committed to using irradiation: Sizzler Restaurants; Wal-Mart ("case-ready" beef)

Where are the irradiation facilities?

  • Approximately 50 other irradiation facilities around the country. These irradiate mostly non-food items, but foods okayed by the FDA may be irradiated there as well. In the last 3 years, new facilities have been built in Chicagoland, Arkansas, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Long Island, Missouri. The only nuclear facility that irradiates any substantial amount of foods has been operating for about 9 years in Mulberry, Florida.

  • Irradiation facilities are under construction or planned in Brazil, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Vietnam, Guatemala, and Mexico

  • According to the University of California-Davis, approximately 40 countries have commercial irradiation of food.

Which foods are approved for irradiation in the US?

  • Seeds that will be used for sprouting (like alfalfa and clover).The sprouts will NOT be labeled as irradiated unless they are also irradiated.

  • Beef, pork, lamb, poultry, fruits, vegetables, wheat, wheat flour, eggs in the shell, herbs, spices, dried vegetable seasonings.

  • Foods not yet requested for irradiation are: dairy (which is already pasteurized), dried legumes/beans and a few single-category foods like honey and coffee.

  • Bacon was approved for irradiation in 1963. The approval was rescinded in 1968 because animals fed irradiated bacon showed adverse health effects. These effects were probably due to fat oxidation (the fat becomes rancid quickly). The fact that fats become rancid quickly explains why nuts are not approved for irradiation in the U.S.

  • Organic foods cannot be irradiated. But the term "natural" for foods does not exclude irradiation. Some nutritional supplement ingredients like garlic are irradiated.

Possible additional foods that will be approved for irradiation in the U.S.

  • The FDA is considering allowing irradiation for deli meats, frozen foods, prepared fresh foods (like prepackaged shredded carrots), and fresh juices. The FDA will probably approve this petition in Spring or Summer 2002.

  • The FDA is considering allowing irradiation of crustaceans and mollusks.

  • The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is considering allowing irradiation for imported fruits and vegetables. The irradiation could be done in the U.S. or in the country of origin.

  • The FDA is reviewing comments on a food industry-sponsored proposal to allow foods processed with new technologies (e.g., filtration, high pressure) to be labeled as fresh. (Fruits and vegetables irradiated up to the FDA maximum dose are already allowed to be labeled as "fresh"!)

Upcoming regulatory changes for labeling

  • In February 1999, the FDA asked for public comments on a proposal to change the labeling requirements for all irradiated foods. It is currently writing the regulation. The FDA will ask the public for comments again, by end of 2002. Everyone should comment on the proposed regulation when it is released! Please contact us so we can notify you!

Who's responsible for irradiation policy?

  • The FDA is responsible for evaluation of the 'science' on whether or not irradiation is harmful (as it does for new drugs). It is also responsible for deciding the permitted doses of irradiation and labeling requirements for nonmeat products.

  • Congress tells the FDA what should be regulated, and the FDA implements Congress’s directives, for example, “make a label that is not threatening to the consumer.”

  • The USDA is responsible for deciding the permitted doses of irradiation and labeling requirements for meat, poultry and their products.

  • No law prevents states from passing their own labeling laws, but in practice their right to label (under Amendment X to the Constitution) has consistently been overturned IF the labeling 'impeded' interstate commerce. Only in unusual cases should we expect a state-level labeling law to survive legal challenges from businesses that operate interstate.

What you can do:

  1. Congress tells the FDA what to do. Please contact your member of Congress and say that you don’t want food to be irradiated, but if it is, you want clear and prominent labels on ALL irradiated foods. Also, you don’t want misleading terms like “pasteurization” used instead of “irradiation.”

  2. Contact OCA to be notified when the FDA asks for comments on the new labels it will propose for irradiated foods by end of 2002. Also contact us if you want any other information.

  3. Tell your grocer (use a comment card) you don’t want to eat irradiated foods.

  4. Set up a public education table about irradiation at food or health festivals. Contact us for flyers and information.

  5. Subscribe to the radfood list: Send an email to with the words "subscribe radfood" in the subject line. This is an e-mail list of news and action alerts (about 2/week).

Organic Consumers Association

6114 Highway 61, Little Marais, MN 55614

Education and activism about food safety, organic agriculture and sustainability. Nonprofit, donations welcome.

Activist or Media Inquiries: (218) 226-4164, Fax: (218) 226-4157


OCA contact about irradiation: Danila at

Status Update on Food Irradiation page of 2 February 2002

Organic Consumers Association /old_articles/irradlink.html


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