Food Irradiation

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Objectives for MPD D.7.3

  • Establish NIST traceable protocols to calibrate and verify dosimetry for all aspects of the food irradiation process.
  • Establish protocols to quantify the biological effects of food irradiation.


Background: Increased concerns about the overall safety of the food supply chain in North America have, in the United States, empowered the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) with greater inspection authority and the demand for improved methods of detection of contaminants and pathogens in foodstuffs. Outbreaks of food-borne illness resulting from Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli contamination, have spurred support for these measures from food industry groups. Thus, there is a renewed interest in the use of ionizing radiation as a method to control pathogens in food products.


Action Items:

1 – Catalog current available information on the food irradiation process now available from the USDA, FDA, WHO and other resources and post links to web sites on the CIRMS web page. In so doing, establish a network of collaboration amongst food industry technologists, the irradiation processing industry and academia, to develop a database covering the different levels of sensitivity (injury, recovery, and repair) of food pathogens to the effect of physical chemical variables (pH, temperature, food composition, nutrition, oxygen, dose and dose rate). The complex array of presently available information on the internet warrants a focused coordination. Such focus could be brought with apropos links on the CIRMS web-site.

2 – Conduct a workshop with the food processing industry and those involved in food irradiation to explain the implications of dose on the reduction and elimination of bioburden.

3 – In collaboration with processors currently engaged in irradiating food, assess various dosimetry techniques and prepare a consensus report on a preferred dosimetry method of test for establishing dose for irradiated food and related packaging materials and on dose-mapping techniques that can be used for verifying depth-dose penetration in the broad spectrum of densities encountered in food products.

4 – Include aspects of food packaging materials irradiation in such report, such as work being conducted within the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in its Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Packaging Materials Committee (FDCPMC) on irradiation effects on packaging materials for food that will be irradiated in its package.

5 – Utilize complementary methodologies being developed for dosimetry metrology for medical device sterilization (MPD D.5.3).

6 – Using Monte Carlo calculations, determine the dose distributions for heterogeneous food product packages, such as boxes of chicken wings with their bones for the different modalities which can be used as sources for ionizing radiation, (gamma ray, electron beam and X-ray). Confirm such determinations with empirical dosimetry studies, giving emphasis to the precision of the Dmin and Dmax ratios attainable per mass or type of package of food product.

7 - Catalog available information on the characterization of the occurrence and magnitude of a recovery phenomenon for microorganisms following irradiation and, at the research level, investigate the ability to mathematically model the degree of lethal and potentially-lethal injures to micro-organisms due to irradiation, noting such factors as dose and dose rate.


Resource Requirements:

1 – A specific person, possibly within a government or university laboratory, is needed to coordinate and gather information on all of the various aspects of food irradiation, including developments in understanding the fundamental biochemistry underlying of the effects of ionizing radiation on food, as well as implications on dosimetry calibration services posed by the food irradiation process. This should be a full time effort, not taken on as an additional work assignment. A minimum of one person-year per year over the next three years time interval is needed.


2 – Retain outside consulting services as needed to supplement NIST commitments in this area.

Resource Availability:

1 - Seafood: 2 - Phytosanitary: 3 - Meat: 4 - Poultry: 5 - Fruits and Vegetables: 6 - Cut Flowers: 7 - Spices:


Lead Food Irradiation Academic Facility: Idaho State University RISE Complex Electron Beam Facility