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Food irradiation

​​​Page last updated May 2021

What is food irradiation?

In Australia irradiation is used to control the spread of pests like fruit fly. In other countries it can also be used to kill dangerous bacteria and microorganisms that cause food poisoning like Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli or as a way to prolong shelf life.

When food is irradiated, it's exposed to ionising radiation, either from gamma rays or a high-energy electron beam or x-rays. These rays are similar to microwaves, and pass through the food just like in a microwave, but don't heat up to any significant extent.

Irradiation does not make food radioactive and you can't get sick from eating it – it is as safe and healthy as non-irradiated food.

Safety

Irradiation has been used as a way to keep food safe since the late 1950s and is one of the most extensively studied methods of food processing. Research from around the world  has continually shown that it is safe.

It has been examined thoroughly by FSANZ and other food safety agencies internationally, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and most recently the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Food quality

Irradiation at the levels allowed in the Food Standards Code won't change the taste, texture, or appearance of food and any changes to the nutritional quality are negligible. In fact, any changes made by irradiation are so minimal that it is not easy to tell if a food has been irradiated.

Labelling of irradiated food

Any food that has been irradiated, or contains irradiated ingredients, must be labelled that it has been treated with ionising radiation. This requirement applies to packaged and unpackaged irradiated foods.

If the food is not normally required to be labelled – like fresh fruit and vegetables, then the required labelling must be displayed close to the food.

See irradiation labelling for more information.

Regulation of irradiated food

Before food can be irradiated it must be approved by us.  We do a safety assessment based on best practice internationally accepted risk analysis principles that looks at:

  • the technological need for the treatment
  • the safety of the treatment
  • effects on food composition
  • any changes to the nutritional quality of the food.

We don't allow irradiation to be used to clean up food that is already unsafe or unsuitable for human consumption.

What foods can be irradiated In Australia and New Zealand?

In Australia and New Zealand we have already approved 26 fruit and vegetables, plus herbs and spices (and herbal infusions) to be irradiated. These foods can only be irradiated to treat for pests:

  • tropical fruit (breadfruit, carambola, custard apple, litchi, longan, mango, mangosteen, papaya and rambutan)
  • persimmons
  • tomatoes and capsicums
  • other specific fruit and vegetables (apple, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum, honeydew, rockmelon, squash, strawberry, grapes, zucchini)
  • blueberries and raspberries

The permissions we have in place, including the level of ionising radiation that can be used, apply to these foods whether or not they have been grown domestically or imported from other countries.

Previous irradiation applications approved by FSANZ:

Application to irradiate all fruits and vegetables for pests

In November 2019, we received an application (A1193) to extend the current irradiation permissions in the Code to include all fresh fruit and vegetables as a phytosanitary measure. 

Application A1193 was recently approved by FSANZ, subject to consideration by the Food Ministers' Meeting.

For more information about this application see:

More information

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