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Food irradiation is an effective technology for ensuring food safety and thereby extending shelf life by elimination of pathogens and harmful microorganisms. The novel method could be used on both fresh and frozen foods without compromising their nutritional content. More than 60 countries have implemented this technology at present. However, technology adaptation varies as per the regulations of countries and in some circumstances, customer misunderstanding and unwillingness to accept new technology might stymie the process. In the last few decades, new technology in food production, processing and preservation have evolved from all around the world. With the advancements, technologies are being developed in response to modern consumer demands for foods that are fresher, more nutritious and natural, with fewer food additives and no toxins or allergens. Higher-quality meals with safer qualities are generated as a result of these evolving technologies, since they have a longer shelf life and can be offered at very economical prices. According to Rollin et al Regulation (EC) No. 258/97 was the first to regulate the use of novel foods or novel food ingredients in Europe, as well as their marketing inside the European Community. Novel foods or food ingredients are defined in this legislation as those containing or produced from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with a new modified primary molecular structure, consisting of or isolated from microorganisms, fungi or algae, plants or animals not obtained through traditional methods propagation or breeding methods, as well as a track record of safe use. Processes that result in major changes in the composition or structure of a food or its constituents are also included. Food safety is a primary motivator for the development of novel food technology in order to minimize, manage and eliminate foodborne diseases and research in this subject is growing.

Why to Adopt this Technology

Food spoilage is generally caused by infestation, contamination and deterioration and a war is ongoing waged by people all over the world. There are no exact figures for how much of the world’s food products are spoilt, but losses are significant, particularly in developing countries, where a warm temperature typically promotes the growth of spoilage organisms and accelerates the deterioration of stored food. The projected storage loss of cereal grains and legumes in these countries is at least 10%. Losses due to microbial contamination and deterioration are estimated to be as high as 50% in non-grain staples, vegetables and fruits. Insect infestation has been observed to result in a loss of 25% of the product, plus an extra 10% loss, owing to deterioration in commodities such as dried fish. Any avoidable loss of food is untenable in the face of a fast-growing global population. Because of changes in agricultural output and animal breeding methods during the Industrial Revolution, the human diet has altered dramatically. Farm products have migrated readily between cities and across continental borders since then, thanks to the variety of agricultural food methods and improvements in transportation. Furthermore, some conservation methods such as refrigeration were enthusiastically adopted by consumers. However, a growing body of evidence implies that consumers are opposed to newly emerging food technology such as crop genetic manipulation, which has sparked widespread debates in the past, claiming that average consumers often assess novel technology hazards differently than experts. They have the same opinion, claiming that when it comes to evaluating food processed by new technology, the general population typically differs from professionals. The majority of consumers believe that hazards are caused by farmers, while on the other hand believe that the greatest food safety hazards are caused by consumer and processor actions. Consumers’ lack of information, combined with farmers’ and food processing technologists’ or engineers’ poor communication contributes to miscommunication. Consumers’ perceptions of food technology influence their food choices, purchase behaviour and adoption of these foods. From an economic standpoint, it is critical to improve the sensory quality of food products in order to encourage public consumption.

Is it Safe?

Food irradiation involves exposing food to ionizing radiation such as electron beams, X-rays or gamma radiation to kill bacteria that cause food poisoning, reduce insect infestation, delay fruit ripening and prevent vegetables from sprouting. Studies have demonstrated that by altering the molecular structure of microorganisms that cause food degradation, such as bacteria and moulds, this technology can limit their multiplication and ensures the sanitary quality of solid or semi-solid foods by inactivating foodborne pathogens. Also known as “cold pasteurization,” it provides a wide range of benefits to the food industry and the consumer. Because of persistently high food losses due to infestation, contamination and spoilage by bacteria and fungi, rising concern about foodborne diseases and a growing international trade in food products that must meet strict import standards of quality, interest in irradiation food technologies is growing. Food irradiation has shown important and practical benefits in all of these areas when integrated into an established system for the safe handling and distribution of food items. In addition, as the use of a number of chemical fumigants for insect and microbial control in the food industry becomes increasingly restricted or prohibited, irradiation is becoming a preferred alternative for protecting food from insect damage and as a quarantine treatment for fresh produce. As a result, by extending food shelf life and controlling pests and diseases, irradiation can help to maintain a safer and more plentiful food supply. Importantly, it is a safe technique for the processing of food commodities, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), when the appropriate radiation dose is followed. Irradiation, as previously stated, is a non-thermal procedure that is used to preserve food and does not add heat to the food (even for radurization at 0.4–10 kGy and radicidation at 40–45 kGy), and keeping the nutritious quality of the food often unchanged. The USDA and FDA have permitted food irradiation since 1989. Blood and spices are commonly treated with irradiation. However, due to its bad reputation, such as the manipulation of food qualities, the generation of toxic compounds, the fallout of risky processes or accidents and its affiliation with the nuclear establishment, this technology is still contentious. In fact, fresh study has shown that almost all of these prejudices are false assertions that are exaggerated. Consumers, on the other hand, continue to be hesitant to buy irradiated products, according to recent studies. This is linked to a lack of knowledge about the irradiation process as well as human aversion to change. In fact, their level of knowledge about the technology influences people’s perceptions of irradiated food. However, given the increasing number of food illness recalls, it is critical to review the marketing policy for irradiated foods.

FSSAI Regulations:

Atomic Energy (Control of Irradiation of Food) Rules were announced in 1991 for commercial application of the technology in India and were later updated in 1996. The current Atomic Energy (Radiation Processing of Food and Allied Products) Rules, 2012, were notified in 2012 after a new modification was made. In India, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is in charge of implementing these standards. The Indian government updated the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (1954) Rules in 1994, approving the irradiation of onions, potatoes and spices for the domestic market. In April 1998 and May 2001, more things were accepted. The new regulations on radiation processing were announced under the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Amendment Regulations, 2016, following the establishment of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

In a recent development, FSSAI has included food radiation processing as a new type of business opportunity to the FoSCoS portal for food business licensing. In this respect, the food authority has issued an order, stating that such food business operators would only be granted a Central license. According to the FSSAI, the decision was made to ‘assist’ food processors that use radiation processing for manufacturing their products. The Atomic Energy (Control of Irradiation of Food) Regulations, 1996 state that no person shall manufacture, import, sell, stock, exhibit for distribution or sale any article of food that has been subjected to the treatment of irradiation, unless a proper license is obtained from the competent authority viz. Department of Atomic Energy. According to the FSSAI, food irradiation or radiation processing is a physical process in which food commodities, whether bulk or pre-packaged, are subjected to regulated levels of ionizing radiation to reach various technical goals, such as gamma rays or X-rays. Additional documents required by such food businesses to obtain a Central license include a license obtained from the Department of Atomic Energy under the Atomic Energy (Radiation Processing of Food and Allied Products) Rules, 2012 and a list of food products with a “class category/allied product category,” “purpose,” and “dose/dose range” as defined in clause of the FSS-(Food Products Standards & Food Additives) Regulations. Furthermore, such food firms must submit a self-declaration stating that they would comply with the Atomic Energy (Radiation Processing of Food and Allied Products) Rules, 2012’s criteria for approval, operation, licence and process management. Following the issue of a licence, the FSSAI has ordered food enterprises to preserve additional documents such as a certificate of irradiation specifying the dosage of irradiation and the purpose of irradiation supplied by the facility during inspection.

To signify the irradiation treatment, the “RADURA” symbol was created. A plant (dot and two leaves) is enclosed in a closed packaging (circle) and irradiated with ionizing rays that travel through the package to the food (dashed lines). The RADURA emblem was established by the Pilot Plant for Food Irradiation in Wageningen, the Netherlands, to identify irradiated products and warns customers as to their quality. This word is connected to “radurization,” which is derived from the Latin word “durus,” which means “lasting.” Labelling of foods is a vital step in assuring whether consumers should buy irradiated foods or not. Once customers become aware of product identity, it becomes easier for them to accept the risks/hazards of buying foods that are processed using new technologies.

Challenges:

Despite all the developments happening in the field of processing of foods, Irradiation is still an issue of major concern for consumers, particularly consumables. Efforts are being put in place by the regulatory authorities to convince consumers with proper scientific and accredited information about this method. There is a dire need to strengthen the appropriate outreach and Information Education and communication component among the target audience and other stakeholders. Collaborations with governmental agencies can prove to be fruitful in adopting the method at the commercial level of processing. This will eventually ensure integration of the irradiated foods into the supply chains and will promote widespread utilization of this technology.

Note: The author is a Food Technologist/Writer and Opinions expressed in this article are based on secondary review of scientific research carried out by Independent Researchers and has nothing to do with the organization he works for.

Aamir Manan DevaAbout the Author:
Aamir Manan Deva
Advisor- (SSD) Food and Consumer Affairs,
Government of Madhya Pradesh
AIGGPA, Bhopal
Email ID: aamir.deva@mp.gov.in

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An editor by day & dreamer at night; passionately involved with both print and digital media; Pet lover; Solo traveller.

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