Following the recent tainted spinach controversy, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month ruled that food manufacturers can now irradiate fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce to kill bacteria associated with food-borne illnesses.
Huh? Exactly. Essentially food irradiation refers to a process whereby food is exposed briefly to a radiant energy source (usually in the form of a gamma ray or electron beam) that is thought to kill harmful bacteria, thereby reducing the risk of contracting a food-borne disease. The FDA also contends that blasting your food with radiation can reduce the bacteria responsible for spoilage, kill insects and parasites, and delay ripening in certain fruits and vegetables. In fact, while we’re on the topic, it should probably be noted that the concept of irradiating foods is far from new: In 1999, the FDA began reviewing irradiation and has approved its use in meats, certain shell fish, produce, certain egg varieties, flour, spices and unpasteurized fruit juices. These foods, however, must bear an internationally recognizable stamp, known as a radura, to signal that the food has been irradiated.