What is food irradiation?

Un-nutritious food may sound like an oxymoron, but it is hiding out there, or rather hiding in plain sight, on the produce shelves.

We’re not talking about junk food which we know is inherently incapable of giving us the nutrients we require to feel good and perform at our best. Junk food at least knows what it is, there’s a label you can read, you may have to bypass a bit of greenwashing to get there, but ultimately we all know you shouldn’t go looking for health in the chip aisle.

Unfortunately, food that lacks nutrition is not always clear to us. For example, fruits, vegetables and other nutrient dense plant foods might not have the antioxidants, vitamins and other healing compounds you think they do. Why? One big reason; food irradiation.

 

Do you like your apples microwaved?

food irradiationFood irradiation is the application of ionizing radiation to food that aims to reduce or entirely remove microorganisms and insects.Essentially this process uses radiation and heat to remove bad bacteria from food. The FDA has deemed this as a safe process that does not affect the nutritional content of the food, but scientific studies suggest otherwise.2,3 

Sadly, we know that good bacteria is also destroyed during this process. Food without any live vitamins and nutrients has little if any nutrition to offer your body. It’s not hard to believe that microwaving food actually compromises good bacteria and nutrients.4 Food irradiation is no different. Food irradiation has been compared to the pasteurization of milk 5 which as we talked about in our Dairy article, is another process that leads to a much less nutritious food product. As you can see, this is troublesome. Any refinement of food, especially when the process includes heating, will lead to a less nutritious product. Again, these plant foods haven’t been coined as ‘junk food’ so the culture we have around them is to believe they’re healthy and vital. When in reality, we should be looking at how they’re grown, picked and if they’re treated with chemicals, radiation or heat. 

 

 

The rationale behind irradiation

food irradiation

In an effort to avoid food borne illnesses, countries like the US have opted to use food irradiation as one of many ways to destroy harmful bacteria. The only problem is the good bacteria gets killed too. Food irradiation, pasteurization and other 20th century fast farming/fast food processes end up leaving people with empty food. Going back to the beginning of this paragraph, this is what un-nutritious food means to us. It’s the kind of food that should naturally contain compounds your body needs, but due to our current food systems this is not the case. With the addition of GMO’s, various pesticides and soils that have been stripped of their minerals and nutrients, it’s no wonder that our food today is continuing to get less and less nutritious, compared to foods grown in the past.6  

 

When food is a business only the shareholders win

Food supply chains are a business, meaning they have targets to hit, numbers to crunch and profits to turn. This has lead to the genetic modification of crops with the hopes of creating bigger yields that grow faster in less amount of time. Yet what we don’t realize is these crops are meant to soak in the mineral rich soil for longer periods of time so they can absorb more nutrients from the earth. Using sprays to ward off pests and protect plants has a reaction much like humans and antibiotics. The sprays result in the plant foods halting at taking part in a very natural process; producing antioxidants to recover from attacks. They now don’t need this layer of resistance because the man made, often toxic chemical(s) is doing this for them. As our immune systems work to fight off disease when threatened, plants have similar mechanisms. We know from our own bodies that the immune system must be exercised to build up immunity. 

what is irradiation

The business link between irradiation and farming isn’t hard to consider either. Most countries receive imported foods from across the world. Working conditions are poor because many of these countries don’t have safe labour laws and work is hard to come by for people with a low socioeconomic status. This leads to poor working conditions, people being forced to work while they’re sick and some farms even use animals like monkeys to pick produce and perform other tasks.13 Paying people minimally and abusing animals to cut costs is a form of modern day slavery.

And lastly, often times these farms don’t provide their workers with adequate sanitary restroom facilities, forcing them to relieve themselves in open air facilities that pose potential contamination to the growing crops.12 One article quotes an agricultural worker in California talking about the unbearable conditions he faced while picking strawberries; “Hot weather is bad,” says Felix Vega, but “cold is worse” because it makes the back pain unbearable. Even worse is sleet or rain, which turns the field into a lake of mud. The worst is picking while having the flu.” As you can see the agricultural sector relies on paying workers minimally so the top level owners/investors can make a bigger profit. Irradiation is just a way for them to remove potential bacteria from food, that is caused by these companies taking advantage of workers and not providing them with basic necessities such as paid sick days, wages they can live off of and clean bathroom facilities.  

Putting the atrocities of the agricultural system aside, the process of irradiation might seem harmless in comparison. Yet the ionized radiation actually breaks down molecular bonds in our food which stops natural cell division.9 Hence making this process extremely unnatural. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this unnatural process extends the shelf life of produce substantially.[9] Would you want to eat food that has an artificially extended shelf life?

Many people are tricked into thinking these plant foods should be the center of their diet, and yet have no idea about their treatment with radiation. Overtime, eating food that lacks nutrition can lead to vitamin deficiencies, chronic illnesses, disease and even negatively affect your mental health.10,11

Consumers are left with a less nutritious food, people working in the agricultural sector are faced with higher demands to meet in shortened periods of time and the environment suffers from the chemicals, exhaust and off-gassing from all of the factories, equipment, pesticides and the factories that create the pesticides. But hey, as long as the shareholders are happy, right?

 

vote with your $ + avoid irradiated food

Not only will investing in non irradiated food benefit your health and the planet’s, but this will also ‘stick it to them man’ and force those making our food system decisions to prioritize unrefined foods, or at least prioritize systems that don’t require heavily heating our food. 

Here’s what to you can do:

  • Watch out for foods that have NOT been labeled USDA organic; despite their growing conditions these must be irradiated if they are coming from the United States of America.1 Look for the USDA organic sign when buying foods – these do not get irradiated. 
  • Even if you’re getting food or nutritional supplements from Europe, Australia, Asia or Africa, if they stop in the US before coming into your country of residence, they will likely still go through an irradiation process if they do not have USDA organic certification.
  • what is food irradiationConsumers are left with more of a responsibility to ask companies directly about their shipping processes. Email, call and ask the brands you love about the systems they have in place.
  • Support local, organic farmers by going to a farmer’s market, subscribe to CSA boxes or simply buying organic foods whenever possible still makes a big difference. 
  • Write letters to government officials in your area about your thoughts on irradiation, pesticides and GMO’s. Provide clear, actionable propositions and call outs for them to consider. 
  • Share this article, share other information, educate the people in your life and get involved! Food business is your business and empowering those around you to make a difference will help us all. 

 

You need nutrition now more than ever

food irradiationOrganically grown produce offers more nutrition than conventionally grown.7,8 As stated above we know that food nowadays is much less nutritious than it used to be. Buying organic, local foods is a step in the right direction, but chances are you probably have vitamin or mineral deficiencies that need to be addressed. Your body needs large amounts of unrefined, cold processed, nutrient dense, organic fruits and vegetables. Our PureFood A to Z contains over 20 organic fruits, veggies and superfoods in every serving. Perfect for modern day go-getters!

Our organic nutritional powders will give you the vitamins and minerals your body needs, in a bioavailable, complete format. Unlike vitamin pills, our food powders contain all of the necessary compounds that will help your body assimilate the nutrients. 

Contribute to organic farming by requesting organic supplements, just as you would with organic food. Read more about what to look for when buying a nutritional supplement, by reading our Vitamin Shopping Guide.   

 

 

 

 

References: 

1 https://www3.epa.gov/radtown/food-irradiation.html

2  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15729830

3  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5302430/

4 http://jfoodprotection.org/doi/abs/10.4315/0362-028X-43.8.641?code=fopr-site

5  https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/33/3/376/278043

6 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss/

7 https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/07/11/330760923/are-organic-vegetables-more-nutritious-after-all

8  https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/02/18/467136329/is-organic-more-nutritious-new-study-adds-to-the-evidence%22Organic

9 http://www.iaea.org/inis/collection/NCLCollectionStore/_Public/23/001/23001380.pdf

10 http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/summary/en/

11 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2167702616641050

12 https://books.google.ca/books?id=7Yequ29RhDMC&pg=PA340&lpg=PA340&dq=workers+forced+to+relieve+themselves+in+fields&source=bl&ots=thW_RAuvjX&sig=FE6nwqldtl9M-JivvGNFolkoEyw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiuxPqbxOfaAhWo5oMKHcfAB2sQ6AEIXTAF#v=onepage&q=workers%20forced%20to%20relieve%20themselves%20in%20fields&f=false

13 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/10/20/the-murky-ethics-of-making-monkeys-pick-our-coconuts/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.39bc6cc9d873