Irradiation is a method whereby Food types, Packaging material, Honey, Pharmaceuticals, Cosmetics, Scientific and Medical Goods etc are exposed to a source of ionising energy in order to kill bacteria, micro-organisms and other pathogens or sterilise insects at low doses.

Food irradiation is used worldwide to combat food-borne diseases and has been endorsed by the Department of Health, World Health Organisation, FAO, FDA and a host of other organisations

Application to sell irradiated foodstuffs is sought from the Department of Health. Once permission is given the products may me irradiated and sold. The foodstuff must be labelled as having been treated by radiation or carry the Radura label.

Irradiation can serve many purposes.

  • Prevention of Foodborne Illness – to effectively eliminate organisms that cause foodborne illness, such as Salmonellaand Escherichia coli ( coli).
  • Preservation – to destroy or inactivate organisms that cause spoilage and decomposition and extend the shelf life of foods.
  • Phytosanitary applications – to sterilise insects in or on fruits exported globally. This prevents the establishment of insect colonies in the countries to which the fruit has been exported and may not be indigenous to that country. This aids in opening new markets for fruits which would ordinarily not be able to be safely exported to that country.
  • Irradiation also decreases the need for other pest-control practices that may harm the fruit.
  • Delay of Sprouting and Ripening – to inhibit sprouting (e.g., garlic) and delay ripening of fruit to increase longevity.
  • Sterilisation – irradiation can be used to sterilise foods. Sterilised foods are useful in hospitals for patients with severely impaired immune systems, such as patients with AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy. Foods that are sterilised by irradiation are exposed to substantially higher levels of treatment than those approved for general use.
Yes irradiation is used for many other applications including:

  • Sterilisation of medical devices and consumables, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and packaging
  • Strengthening of plastic around electric cabling
  • Heritage preservation
  • Colouring of glass
Food that has been irradiated will carry the Radura logo or state on the packaging “Treated with radiation” or “Treated by irradiation” or “Radurised”


Bulk foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are required to be individually labelled or to have a label next to the sale container.

It is important to remember that irradiation is not a replacement for proper food handling practices by producers, processors, and consumers. Irradiated foods need to be stored, handled and cooked in the same way as non-irradiated foods, because they could still become contaminated with disease-causing organisms after irradiation if the rules of basic food safety are not followed.

Food that has been irradiated is safe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has endorsed the technology. Irradiation does not make food radioactive, compromise nutritional quality, or noticeably change the taste, texture, or appearance of food. Regarding the dose used in the irradiation of food, the WHO states “The Sky’s the Limit” as product is only irradiated as much as it requires.

Food irradiation (the application of ionizing radiation to food) is a technology that improves the safety and extends the shelf-life of foods by reducing or eliminating micro-organisms and insects. Like pasteurizing milk and canning fruits and vegetables, irradiation can make food safer for the consumer.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has evaluated the safety of irradiated food for more than 30 years and has found the process to be safe. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have also endorsed the safety of irradiated food. In South Africa the technology has been used for control of foodborne disease since the 1960’s.

NASA astronauts eat meat that has been sterilised by irradiation to avoid getting foodborne illnesses when they fly in space

Studies have shown that there is no significant loss of any nutrients after food has been irradiated. A small amount of some vitamins are lost, similar to the amounts lost during other food processing methods such as refrigeration, canning and drying.
No. Only foods that have been approved by Health authorities in each country may be irradiated.
There are three sources of radiation approved for use on foods.

  • Gamma rays are emitted from radioactive forms of the element cobalt (Cobalt 60) or of the element cesium (Cesium 137). Gamma radiation is used routinely to sterilize medical, dental, and household products and is also used for the radiation treatment of cancer.
  • X-rays are produced by reflecting a high-energy stream of electrons off a target substance (usually one of the heavy metals) into food. X-rays are also widely used in medicine and industry to produce images of internal structures.
  • Electron beam (or E-beam) is similar to X-rays and is a stream of high-energy electrons propelled from an electron accelerator into food.
Guidelines for Monitoring Irradiated Foodstuffs in South Africa.