[ RadSafe ] Fwd: Don't X-ray My Veggies

Brennan, Mike (DOH) Mike.Brennan at DOH.WA.GOV
Thu Jan 29 11:11:53 CST 2009

I actually agree with the last paragraph of this article:  I approve of
and support farmers' markets and believe that buying locally grown food
make sense from economic, energy, and national security points of view,
as well as the pleasure of getting to know people who enjoy farming.
And I believe it tastes better, too.  

The rest of the article, however, is of dubious value.  It reminds me of
a short story I once wrote in which a council of Homo Erectus voted to
suppress research into controlling fire because it was against the laws
of nature.  

I would suggest that this be settled in the time honored tradition of
Science:  Double blind studies.  The author could be presented with
veggies from the same field, some of which have been irradiated, some of
which have not.  If he can tell the difference by taste (at the 95%
confidence level), he wins his point completely, and the industry
rethinks the problem.  If he can tell the difference using chemistry,
the point is acknowledged, and he gets to participate in a risk-benefit
analysis.  If the only way he can tell the difference is by culturing
bacteria, and assuming the samples with the most were not irradiated,
then he has to shut up.

I'll bet $5 that he wouldn't accept the challenge.  

-----Original Message-----
From: radsafe-bounces at radlab.nl [mailto:radsafe-bounces at radlab.nl] On
Behalf Of George Stanford
Sent: Thursday, January 29, 2009 7:39 AM
To: radsafe at radlab.nl
Subject: [ RadSafe ] Fwd: Don't X-ray My Veggies

The Bottom Line Daily Health News probably reaches a rather large
audience.  Radsafers might be interested in the excerpt below.
-- George Stanford


Date: Thu, 29 Jan 2009 02:04:14 -0500
From: "Daily Health News" <DailyHealthNews at dhn.bottomlinesecrets.com>
Subject: Don't X-ray My Veggies

  January 29, 2009

Don't X-ray My Veggies

     Though not exactly an outcry, there were grumbles and groans when
the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that food processors
could irradiate fresh or bagged spinach and iceberg lettuce as a way to
kill bacterial contaminants such as E. Coli and Listeria. The reasoning
for irradiation is twofold: One, irradiation would kill the
microorganisms that lead to spoilage, so the produce stays fresher,
longer -- and second, killing the bacteria might potentially reduce
headline-making outbreaks of foodborne illness. Given that the FDA has
been known for having made some... shall we say, perplexing...
decisions, the question is whether irradiated food is a positive safety
ruling or yet another well-intentioned protection attempt that does more
harm than good?


     Let's start with the basics. Irradiation is the process of exposing
food to ionizing energy (gamma rays, electron beams, or X-rays). These
pulses of energy destroy bacteria on the food by disrupting its DNA,
though they do not make the food radioactive per se.

     You may be surprised to hear that you've likely been ingesting
irradiated food for years.
The FDA approved irradiation of various meats back in the 1990s (Omaha
Steaks, for instance, uses the technology for its gourmet burgers) and
the majority of dried spices, in particular, are irradiated to kill
microbes that can shorten shelf life. So it's not new. But some new
variables do come into play when vegetables are irradiated, and that's
what has consumer advocates up in arms.
Their point -- irradiation destroys nutrients, making foods less
healthy... and we don't know what other health problems may arise in the
future, due to processes that we are only beginning to use without
evidence showing safety over long periods of time.


     To better understand the problem, I contacted Bill Freese, science
policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety in Washington, DC. He and
other critics say the ruling is fraught with imperfections, which
ironically don't make sense from either a health or business

     Reduced nutrients. Much like cooking, irradiation can lead to
nutrient loss. Freese doesn't believe the FDA takes this concern
seriously. "They approved irradiation of spinach and iceberg lettuce at
up to 4 kiloGray (4 kGy), yet the studies reviewed by the FDA found that
spinach loses nearly all of its ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) when
irradiated with just 1 kGy, and 12% of its folate at 2.5 kGy. Separate
research on lettuce found a 24% to 53% lower ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)
level at just 1 kGy."

     Doesn't kill bacteria completely. Irradiation at the low levels
used in produce kills most but not all bacteria. For instance, the
Clostridium bacterium that causes botulism is insensitive to radiation.
And it doesn't kill viruses, like norovirus, which can cause viral
gastroenteritis (aka the stomach flu).

     Freshness. This process adds another step -- possibly a lengthy one
-- to the journey from field to table. Produce would have to be
transported to facilities equipped to irradiate food before it could be
delivered to stores, which will add time to the shipping process.

     Unique radiolytic products and free radicals.
Irradiation of lettuce and spinach generates free radicals from water in
the leafy greens. These can degrade the structural integrity of the
leaves, making them limp, and may also cause other undesirable changes.
Freese acknowledges, however, that research into these particular
problems is inconclusive.

     Is it worth the cost? Then, of course, comes the question of
cost-benefit. According to Trevor V. Suslow, PhD, researcher at the
University of California, Davis, growers aren't likely to want to pay
the additional costs involved with irradiating produce. The truth is,
contamination is very rare, though it does grab headlines since it can
be fatal. "If you evaluate the frequency or likelihood of pathogen
contamination versus the cost of running everything through a treatment
facility, along with the limitations to shelf life in the real world, I
think you can see where this doesn't make sense," he said.

     Mislabeling. Currently, all irradiated foods need to carry the
"Radura" label and the words "treated with radiation" or "treated by
irradiation." The food industry is pushing to change this for lettuce
and spinach because they fear consumers won't buy products so labeled.
Their hope is to use a more familiar term, pasteurized, which would
appear on labels as "cold pasteurization" or "electronic
This request has not been granted -- but many are concerned that if it
is, it would be a misrepresentation and deceitful to the public.


     Net-net, for the moment it appears unlikely the market will be
flooded with these products -- and second, it's not clearly dangerous,
based on what we know thus far. Irradiation reduces health benefits of
produce, but it doesn't appear to render it "harmful."

     In my view, though, the best solution is to avoid the issue
altogether. I personally find that farmers' markets are a great way to
buy produce, because I know it's fresh and I get to talk with the grower
face to face -- and that relationship gives me peace of mind every time
I set the table.


Trevor V. Suslow, PhD, extension research specialist, University of
California, Davis.

Bill Freese, science policy analyst, Center for Food Safety, Washington,

You are currently subscribed to the RadSafe mailing list

Before posting a message to RadSafe be sure to have read and understood
the RadSafe rules. These can be found at:

For information on how to subscribe or unsubscribe and other settings
visit: http://radlab.nl/radsafe/

More information about the RadSafe mailing list