An FDA-approved process by which food is bombarded with low doses of high-frequency energy from gamma rays, Xrays or accelerated electrons. The purpose for this radiation is to extend shelf life by inhibiting maturation and decay through the elimination of microorganisms and insect invasion. Most foods processed with irradiation will last weeks instead of days. All irradiated foods must bear an international symbola plant within a broken circle. Exceptions to this rule are irradiated foodssuch as spices and herbsthat are used as an ingredient in other food products. The jury is still out on the safety of irradiated foods. Of concern are potentially toxic elements that irradiation may produce in foods, as well as the possible long-term side effects of eating these treated products. Proponents suggest that irradiation serves as a substitute for many questionable chemicals and preservatives now used in food processing. Those foods currently approved by the FDA for irradiation treatment are: fruits, vegetables, dried spices, herbs, seasonings and teas, pork, white potatoes, wheat and wheat flours. Most food producers, however, have not taken advantage of that approval.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.