What is food irradiation?
Irradiation is a technique used to keep food safe. In Australia it is mostly used to control the spread of pests like fruit fly but can also be used to kill dangerous bacteria and microorganisms that cause food poisoning, like Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli. It can also be used as a way to prolong shelf life of food by slowing down the ripening process and can stop vegetables from sprouting.
When food is irradiated, it's exposed to ionising radiation, either from gamma rays or a high-energy electron beam or x-rays. These rays are similar to microwaves, and pass through the food just like in a microwave, but don't heat up to any significant extent.
Irradiation does not make food radioactive and you can't get sick from eating it – it is as safe and healthy as non-irradiated food.
Irradiation has been used as a way to keep food safe since the late 1950s and is one of the most extensively studied methods of food processing. Research from around the world has continually shown that it is safe.
It has been examined thoroughly by FSANZ and other food safety agencies internationally, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and most recently the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Irradiation at the levels allowed in the Food Standards Code won't change the taste, texture, or appearance of food and any changes to the nutritional quality are negligible. In fact, any changes made by irradiation are so minimal that it is not easy to tell if a food has been irradiated.
Labelling of irradiated food
Any food that has been irradiated, or contains irradiated ingredients, must be labelled that it has been treated with ionising radiation. This requirement applies to packaged and unpackaged irradiated foods.
If the food is not normally required to be labelled – like fresh fruit and vegetables, then the required labelling must be displayed close to the food.
See irradiation labelling for more information.
Regulation of irradiated food
Before food can be irradiated it must be approved by us. We do a safety assessment based on best practice internationally accepted risk analysis principles that looks at:
- the technological need for the treatment
- the safety of the treatment
- effects on food composition
- any changes to the nutritional quality of the food.
We don't allow irradiation to be used to clean up food that is already unsafe or unsuitable for human consumption.
What foods can be irradiated In Australia and New Zealand?
In Australia and New Zealand we have already approved 26 fruit and vegetables, plus herbs and spices (and herbal infusions) to be irradiated. These foods can only be irradiated to treat for pests:
- tropical fruit (breadfruit, carambola, custard apple, litchi, longan, mango, mangosteen, papaya and rambutan)
- tomatoes and capsicums
- other specific fruit and vegetables (apple, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum, honeydew, rockmelon, squash, strawberry, grapes, zucchini)
- blueberries and raspberries
The permissions we have in place, including the level of ionising radiation that can be used, apply to these foods whether or not they have been grown domestically or imported from other countries.
Previous irradiation applications approved by FSANZ:
Application to irradiate all fruits and vegetables for pests
In November 2019, we received an application to extend the current irradiation permissions in the Code to include all fresh fruit and vegetables (Application A1193 – irradiation as a phytosanitary measure for all fresh fruit and vegetables).
This application is for a phytosanitary purpose only and will help contain the potential spread of infestations from pests like fruit fly – which can cause significant damage to the horticulture industries of Australia, New Zealand and the world.
If approved, permission to irradiate would only apply to fruit and vegetables that are not produced and consumed within the same quarantine region – i.e. some imported products and some domestic products crossing quarantine borders. Most fresh fruit and vegetables in Australia and New Zealand won't be irradiated as they are grown and eaten in the same quarantine jurisdiction.
The assessment of this application is underway and public comment has now commenced.
you want to stay informed of the status of this application, you can ask to be
placed on the mailing list by completing the subscription form and emailing it to the Standards Management mailbox.
You can also subscribe to our notification circular through our subscription service by using the same subscription form [Word 110
Last updated: October 2020