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Whatever happened to irradiated food? © Alamy

Whatever happened to irradiated food?

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Beneficial for cutting food waste and food poisoning, yet the public just doesn’t think irradiated food sounds appetising.

Asked by: Andrew Black, Ealing


Food waste is a huge problem: the UK alone is estimated to bin over 10 million tonnes of food every year, worth around £20bn. Of this, a substantial proportion – around 20 per cent – is the result of spoilage due to bacterial action. A really effective way of reducing spoilage exists, but it’s never caught on: exposing food to radiation.

Over 100 years ago, experiments showed that X-rays kill off bacteria, and by the late 1950s the first commercial food irradiation plant was operating in Germany.

Today, treatment of many forms of food using intense gamma radiation has been approved in over 60 countries – including the UK. Yet despite its ability to cut both food waste and food poisoning, the method has never gone mainstream. That’s largely because of consumer resistance. Despite hundreds of scientific studies showing it does not make food radioactive or undermine its quality, most people just won’t touch it.

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Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.


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