This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission.
No one wants to throw up in zero gravity, so space programs take great care to avoid food poisoning among astronauts. Irradiation has been used to pasteurize astronauts’ food since 1966. In fact, irradiation has been the most studied of all food-processing technologies over the past 60 years. Irradiation improves food safety by fatally damaging bacterial DNA. This stops the growth and reproduction of the bacteria that can cause food to spoil or people to become sick.
Irradiation is also approved as a food safety treatment in over 50 countries back here on earth. For example, France, Belgium and the Netherlands use irradiation to combat food-borne pathogens in frogs’ legs, seafood, and poultry. The U.S. has approved irradiation of meat. Canada has approved irradiation for spices, seasonings, flour, onions and seed potatoes, but not meat or poultry. Irradiation is safe for human food use at doses more than eight times higher than those approved for meat in the U.S. Irradiation does not cause the meat to become radioactive, and has less of an effect on food nutrients than cooking does, but irradiation can have undesirable effects on flavour or colour under some conditions. Continue reading