Page last updated July 2021
We recently approved an application by the Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to irradiate all types of fresh fruit and vegetables as a phytosanitary measure (i.e. to control the spread of pests like fruit fly). Changes to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code) to include this new permission were gazetted on 22 July 2021.
Irradiation has been used in Australia and New Zealand for 20 years and internationally since the 1950s. This approval extends previous Code permissions for 26 fruit and vegetables to cover all fruit and vegetables for one purpose only – to stop pests moving from one quarantine region to another.
Irradiated food is safe
Irradiated foods are not radioactive and don't cause cancer. Irradiation has been thoroughly researched over many years and assessed by numerous food safety agencies internationally.
For Application A1193, we conducted a comprehensive safety assessment. This included consideration of the evidence for the use of ionising radiation as an effective treatment, and an assessment of any impact on safety or nutritional adequacy. The assessment was undertaken using risk analysis and the best available scientific information. Our assessment found no public health and safety concerns with eating fresh fruit and vegetables that have been irradiated at the proposed doses.
In particular, compounds formed by food irradiation are at levels that are generally comparable to those naturally present in cooked food and are not likely to result in harm. There is no evidence that irradiating fruit and vegetables will increase the allergenicity of the produce.
Credible, repeatable studies have found no link between eating irradiated food and health problems (e.g. nutritional deficiencies, immune system disorders or genetic damage). There is no evidence from lifetime animal studies, or from humans who consumed wholly irradiated diets for prolonged periods, that irradiation has any effect on risk of such conditions or on the health or function of any organs or tissues.
Irradiated fruit and vegetables are nutritious
As part of our safety assessment we looked at the nutritional impact of irradiation on fruit and vegetables.
We found that, based on the available evidence, the effect of irradiation on the micronutrient intake across the Australian and New Zealand populations from fruit and vegetables is minimal.
See Section 3.2 of the Approval report for more information
Not all fruit and vegetables will be irradiated
Only small proportions of domestically produced and imported fruit and vegetables might be irradiated as a result of this new permission. Most fresh produce in Australia and New Zealand is grown and eaten within the same quarantine jurisdiction and is therefore not subject to any phytosanitary treatment for pest disinfestation.
The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries estimated that between 0.3 – 8% of total fruit and vegetables consumed in Australia and New Zealand might be irradiated to permit movement across quarantine borders.
Not all fruit and vegetables are suitable for irradiation. It is only one of a number of options that can be used to treat fruit and vegetables for pests before they are transported to different quarantine regions.
See Table 3 of the Approval report for more information
Irradiation can't be used to 'clean up' unsafe food or extend shelf-life of food
In Australia and New Zealand, irradiation can only be used on fresh fruit and vegetables to control the spread of insect pests (like fruit fly). This is known as a phytosanitary purpose. Australian quarantine laws mean food grown in an area where there are known pests must be treated before it can be sent to another quarantine region or internationally.
Other countries around the world also permit the use of irradiation for killing dangerous bacteria and microorganisms that cause food poisoning like Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli, or as a way to prolong shelf life. The irradiation of fresh fruit and vegetables for these purposes is not permitted in Australia and New Zealand.
See Section 3 of the Approval report for more information
FSANZ's technological, safety and nutrition assessment is available here .
How will I know if fruit and vegetables have been irradiated?
To help people make informed choices about the food they buy, irradiated fruit and vegetables must be labelled. If the product is unpackaged, a statement that it has been irradiated must be displayed next to it.
Previous requirements for mandatory labelling of irradiated foods at section 1.5.3—9 of the Code were not changed by this latest approval and will continue to apply .
See Section 4 of the Approval report for more information