Radiation technology is gaining more and more acceptance from national authorities, producers, and consumers as one of the top options for ensuring the safety of foods. It has been approved for commercial use in more than 40 countries, with about two dozen others applying the technology on a smaller scale.
Major reasons behind the commercialization of food irradiation are rising cases of foodborne diseases and the technology's effectiveness in preventing outbreaks. The diseases range from serious diarrhoea -- with over 4 billion episodes reported worldwide by the World Health Organization -- to illnesses from eating seafoods, poultry, and meats contaminated with bacterial pathogens and parasites. These infections result in serious illness and sometimes death.
A catalyst for better food processing technologies is the increased movement of food products in international trade, which could compound problems of foodborne illnesses. Scientific study and development of food irradiation dates back decades, and the technology since has garnered scientific consensus on its safety and effectiveness.
Developments in the United States, a leading force in global food trade, could be a harbinger of food irradiation's fortunes. National food, health, and safety authorities there have approved the technology's use for a range of food products, including beef and other meats. Products are being marketed in many states following the opening in July 2000 of a major irradiation facility. Worldwide, an estimated 250,000 metric tonnes of food ingredients and products are being processed by radiation technology for safety and health reasons.