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Is our Nutrition being Nuked?             
August 21, 2008
WASHINGTON – As of today, the FDA will allow food producers to zap fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce with enough radiation to kill microorganisms such as E. coli and salmonella that for decades have caused widespread illness among consumers.
It is the first time the Food and Drug Administration has allowed any produce to be irradiated at levels needed to protect against illness.
"This is probably one of the single most significant food safety actions done for fresh produce in many years," said Robert Brackett, chief scientist for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which petitioned the agency in 2000 to allow manufacturers to irradiate a wide variety of processed meats, prepared foods and fruits and vegetables.
The FDA still is considering the petition to allow irradiation of additional produce. The grocery manufacturers group will push for other greens, such as Romaine lettuce, to be next, so that producers could irradiate bags of salad mixes.
Food-safety advocates condemned the government decision and asserted that irradiation can lower nutritional value, create unsafe chemicals and ruin taste.
Dr. Laura Tarantino, director of the FDA's office of food additive safety, said the agency found no serious nutritional or safety changes associated with irradiation of spinach or lettuce.
To Label or Not
The government has long allowed food processors to irradiate beef, eggs, poultry, oysters and spices, but the market for irradiated foods is tiny because the government also requires that these foods be labeled as irradiated, labels that scare away most consumers.
But the FDA is presently considering a proposal to weaken or change this labeling requirement.
Advocates for irradiation say the technology can help reduce the burden of illness and the number of outbreaks.
No Guarantees
But critics say that not only does radiation make food less nutritious and potentially toxic, it also does not eliminate the risks of food-borne illnesses. An analysis by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that most outbreaks associated with salad and lettuce are caused by viruses – which are not affected by the doses of radiation approved by the FDA.
Irradiation Facts
Current practices: Irradiated meat has been around for years, particularly ground beef that is a favorite hiding spot for E. coli. Spices also can be irradiated.
Likely participants: The industry group wouldn't name salad suppliers ready to start irradiating. But it expects niche marketing to trickle out first. California-based produce giant Dole Food Co. confirmed it is considering irradiated lettuce.
What it kills: E. coli actually is fairly sensitive to radiation, while salmonella and listeria require more energy. Although irradiation doesn't sterilize, the FDA ruled that food companies could use a dose proved to dramatically reduce levels of those germs, a dose somewhat lower than meat requires.
Source:  The Dallas Morning News, Wire Reports, August 21, 2008.
Dr. Iverson's Comment
This is a tough call. Although I have read the research from the physics departments from several universities regarding the supposed safety, I have to be suspect in something that is being exposed to the equivalent of cancer radiation therapy and then shipped to us to eat. There are by-products that are created in irradiated food that are called “radio-lytic products.” Their long term effect has not been adequately studied. 
As far as the nutritional losses- they are apparently about as much as cooking or freezing. If you plan on buying fresh spinach or lettuce- then it might as well be cooked. Doesn’t sound like a very appetizing salad eh?
When it comes to foods we eat at restaurants we may not have much control over this and soon it may be just common practice among our grocery food to all be irradiated. 
Never too late to get that garden started!
Happy Shopping!

 

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