Irradiation erases contaminants in most foods

ON CALL

August 31, 1993|By Dr. Simeon Margolis | Dr. Simeon Margolis,Contributing Writer

Can't anything be done to protect us against the kind of serious infections that resulted from eating contaminated beef at a fast-food store and chain restaurant in the Pacific Northwest?

Yes, something can be done.

Irradiation of food has been shown to be extremely effective in killing virtually all the bacteria and other organisms contaminating meat, poultry and other foods.

The Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation of food in 1990, but it is not used often.

One problem -- the public fear of anything that conjures up radioactivity -- has been intensified by a Vermont consumers group, Food & Water, that has extensively promoted the dangers of irradiated food.

They have frightened the public by claiming that irradiation destroys food nutrients and introduces changes that are toxic.

They have intimidated food stores using irradiated foods by picketing.

Yet, the effects of irradiation were studied quite carefully before the method was approved by the FDA.

Irradiation of poultry products, for example, can kill 99 percent of the salmonella that contaminate chickens and causes many outbreaks of diarrhea each year.

Irradiated food is not radioactive. The process can destroy some of the vitamins in foods, but no more than broken down by canning, freezing or other means of storing foods.

And careful chemical analyses of irradiated foods has not detected any of the supposed toxic products claimed by Food & Water.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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