Coming Soon: Minimally Irradiated Groceries

Want your grocery store produce pathogen-free? Then you have to accept the increasingly common practice of irradiation, which kills bacteria (such as E. coli) found on fresh produce. Fortunately, for the skeptical, researchers at AgriLife Research have figured out how to drastically cut down on the dose of radiation needed to kill bacteria found on produce.

Irradiation was recently approved by the FDA for leafy greens like
spinach and lettuce at dosages of up to 4,000 Gray–an ionizing
radiation dose that would kill a human on contact but purportedly leaves
greens safe for consumption. While the practice was only approved in 2008 for greens, it has been used for years to kill pathogens found in meat and spices.

But critics contend that irradiation causes leafy greens to lose their freshness. AgriLife’s solution: putting greens in a Mylar bag filled with pure oxygen before irradiating them at dosages of 200 to 1,250 Gray. The dosage kills the vast majority of pathogens while staying below the threshold that causes greens to lose freshness and the FDA’s approved levels of irradiation, according to PhysOrg.

Next up for the team: figuring out the best dosages of radiation for mangoes, cantaloupes, blueberries, and other commonly irradiated items. Here’s hoping AgriLife continues to cut down on the amount of irradiated foods found on store shelves–safe as they may be, fresher food is always best.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.AS