Irradiation of food and packaging. Recent developments

Irradiation of food and packaging. Recent developments
Vanee Komolprasert and Kim Morehouse (eds.)
Washington DC: American Chemical Society (ACS Symposium Series 875) 2004 | Pp 363 | $145 | ISBN 0841238693
Reviewed by Hamish Kidd

It is almost exactly 100 years since food irradiation was first envisioned, and its acceptance has been very slow. A variety of national and international organisations - for example the US Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN - have deliberated on its implications and concluded that treating food with ionising radiation is safe. However, the US food industry was disinterested in applying the technology until the regulatory authorities approved it in 1997.

This book, which reflects the growing interest in US food irradiation, evolved from the proceedings of a symposium held in Boston, Massachusetts in August 2002 and, like all such proceedings in camera-ready format, the chapters are somewhat uneven in quality and suffer from poor graphics. Apart from an overview chapter at the start, and a future of irradiation chapter at the end, the book portrays a lack of a coherent linking message. It is written for food-science researchers and technologists having specialist knowledge, and not for those who might just be concerned about food irradiation and want to read some unbiased, informative background material.

Half the book is about irradiation of food, including meat, fruit, vegetables, fruit juices and seafood. One can learn about such subjects as the effect of electron beams on the colour and texture of surumi seafood, and the use of ionising radiation to treat fruit susceptible to insect infestation. The other half is about irradiation of food packaging, including the potential for ionising radiation to cause migration of chemicals from polymer packaging into food.

The book also contains an unrelated, though up-to-date, chapter on the electron beam irradiation of mail as a countermeasure against biological attack. Many of the materials and objects treated in this way (paper, computer disc, photographic images etc) were badly damaged by the beam.

The word ’radiation’, like the phrase ’genetic modification’, has negative connotations to the food-buying public and, whatever scientists might conclude, most people feel uncomfortable with the idea. Like GM food, many of the public are swayed by emotion and not by facts and hence will never accept such technologies when applied fundamental commodities like food and water. Hence the confidence for the future of food and packaging irradiation with which this book concludes may, or may not, be justified.