Should We Irradiate Our Food?

Food safety is something we can sometimes forget about, but that doesn't make it any less important. After the E. Coli outbreak last month, food safety seems to be back on everyone's minds and more people are talking about trying to implement some real change.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Mark Bittman takes a look at food irradiation and considers whether we should start irradiating more of our foods and whether or not this would actually increase food safety in the country. Bittman compares irradiation to other food safety processes like milk pasteurization and considers how food irradiation compares to other food modifications like genetically modified foods, how the public reacts to these kinds of chemical alterations, and what role the government should have in these kinds of things.

Simply put, food irradiation is the process of exposing food to radiation, usually no more radiation than an X-ray, to destroy any microorganisms, bacteria, viruses or insects that might be in the food to make it safer and allow it to last longer. Most experts seem to agree that irradiating more food would have generally positive benefits, although some are concerned that the radiation would diminish nutrients and that this would only temporarily fix a small part of a bigger problem in the food industry. But if done properly and controlled carefully, it seems like food irradiation might be able to fix some big problems and prevents future episodes like the E. Coli outbreak.

Bittman argues that the main problem with food irradiation is the "icky" reputation it gets because people don't like the idea of having radiation in their food. But he argues that radiating food would always be beneficial and would be safer than, for example, meat that was fed antibiotics, which we often all eat.

So what do you think? Would you eat irradiated food if you knew it killed bad bacteria, even though it might have some radiation in it?