Realistically, this is an issue of public paranoia and technophobia rather than the dangerously radical liberal media. Every news article, NPR story, TV news magazine, or other source of reliable information I've ever read or heard or seen has made the case that food irradiation is safe, harmless, sanitary, and publicly resisted because people don't want radiation in their food. It's nonsense to fear it, and every reasonably intelligent human being who pays attention to these things knows it -- but the resistance continues. We have more to worry about from eating pesticides. It's superstition, nothing more.

Food irradiation has been identified as a safe technology to reduce the risk of foodborne illness as part of high-quality food production, processing, handling, and preparation. Food irradiation's history of scientific research, evaluation, and testing spans more than 50 years. The process has been approved by more than 40 countries around the world and it has been endorsed or supported by numerous national and international food and health organizations and professional groups.

-- from the official position of the American Dietetic Association (

Food irradiation, sometimes called "cold pasteurization," is an expensive but effective way to kill infectious agents such as E. coli, trichina and salmonella in meat, fruits and vegetables, as well as flour and spices, before shipping. The process involves bathing the food with gamma rays, electron beams or x-rays, killing insects and microorganisms (or, at the very least, sterilizing them) without making the food radioactive, and any resultant heat or nutrient damage is very small. In some fruits and vegetables, the process even extends their shelf life by reducing spoilage bacteria and delaying ripening. It's been studied for decades and is considered safe by every agency and organization that's investigated it.

Just as for the pasteurization of milk, it will be most effective when irradiation is coupled to careful sanitation programs. Consumer confidence will depend on making food clean first, and then using irradiation or pasteurization to make it safe.

-- from "Frequently Asked Questions about Food Irradiation," issued by the Center for Disease Control (

The main reason to choose irradiation for food is as an alternative to fumigation and other chemical sanitizers, which can affect the flavor and/or quality of the food. It provides a second layer of assurance in kitchens in case food isn't completely cooked or carefully prepared. By extending the shelf life of food, grocery stores and kitchens reduce waste and save money. The major problem, then, is one of consumer confidence. To too many people, "irradiation" means the same thing as "radioactive," and since producers and stores are required to label any irradiated food as such, people tend to avoid purchasing food which is actually safer. Few people today would think of buying milk or juice that wasn't pasteurized, or have any concerns about heating their food in a microwave oven. But mainly due to a lack of information, the idea of sanitizing food with gamma rays is instinctively unacceptable to those same consumers.

[T]he priorities for governments and international agencies should be focused on improving food harvesting, storage and manufacturing processes, and on eliminating or containing the contamination that has found its way into the food chain, rather than on killing off contamination at the last stage by irradiation.

-- from "Food Irridation: Solution or Threat?" issued by Consumers International (

It's noted, however, that the process cannot kill 100% of all bacteria, although 99.9% is a significant improvement. Because of this, food irradiation isn't a replacement for safe food handling practices by producers, resellers or consumers -- and no organization has suggested it should be. A few surviving microbes could survive and reproduce if the food is left unrefrigerated, and of course it's still not safe from future contamination if it's packaged or stored improperly. So for your own sake, don't start eating all your burgers ultra-rare instead of medium well, or thawing your chicken on the counter instead of in the refrigerator, just because you think it's safe before you get it home.