Irradiated foods are foods that are sterilized using x-rays or radioactive materials that kill bacteria. The process is called irradiation. It is used to remove germs from food. It does not make the food itself radioactive.
The benefits of irradiating food include the ability to control insects and bacteria, such as salmonella. The process can give foods (especially fruits and vegetables) a longer shelf life, and it reduces the risk for food poisoning.
Food irradiation is used in many countries. It was first approved in the United States to prevent sprouts on white potatoes, and to control insects on wheat and in certain spices and seasonings.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have all long-approved the safety of irradiated food.
Foods that undergo irradiation include:
- Beef, pork, poultry
- Eggs in shells
- Shellfish, such as shrimp, lobster, crab, oysters, clams, mussels, scallops
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, including seeds for sprouting (such as alfalfa sprouts)
- Spices and seasonings
Lindquist HDA, Cross JH. Helminths. In: Cohen J, Powderly WG, Opal SM, eds. Infectious Diseases. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 195.
US Food and Drug Administration website. Food irradiation: what you need to know. www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/food-irradiation-what-you-need-know. Updated January 4, 2018. Accessed April 22, 2021.
Review Date 2/12/2021
Updated by: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.