By Chris Barts
It happens too often. Yet another outbreak of food poisoning impairs the reputation of a corporation and claims lives. People go into hysterics over the issue, taking the companies to court and receiving huge settlements, all at the ultimate expense of the consumer. Can anything be done? Of course.
The best way yet found to kill most bacteria, insects, and other spoilage-causing agents is to irradiate the food using extremely low dosages of very low-powered radiation. Obviously, this treatment, while entirely safe in practice, has raised even more fears than the diseases themselves. Why? The public understands the disease. Most of us know that microscopic organisms living off the same food we eat can enter our bodies and cause us harm. This is a sizable improvement over a few decades ago, when people blamed the disease polio on things like cold water.
But obviously we have not gone far enough. People have what's known as a knee-jerk reaction to certain words and phrases, and 'radiation" in any form is one of those 'trigger' words. This is simply because people don't understand radiation, at least not fully. They trust X-rays, a procedure involving far more penetrating radiation than food irradiation ever will, but will not even think of eating food treated with this safe method. This is an irrational fear, especially compared to all we have to gain from food irradiation.
Irradiation can kill many things on essential foodstuffs such as grain without affecting the grain itself. Less infection means more grain, more grain means more food, and more food means less hunger worldwide. But it does not stop at grain. Almost anything can be irradiated, but the main foods are meats, seafood, fruit and vegetable and herbs and spices. All of these are essential foods, foods that large sections of the human race depends on for basic nutrition. So why isn't it being used? Perhaps cost, some say.
In some respects, that is a valid concern. But for many applications, irradiation is cheaper. For irradiation of fruit in Thailand and the United States, for example, it has been estimated that the cost of irradiation would be only 10 to 20 percent of the cost of vapor-heat treatment, the most widely used method currently. But the main savings is infection reduction. If less food goes bad, more can be sold, driving down prices. And if less people get food poisoning, insurance costs go down, as fewer people are making claims, bringing down a host of prices with it, among them doctor's bills.
So what is the real reason it is not being used? Lack of education. Some people have a very bad reaction if 'radiation' is brought up in any way, shape or form. These people need to be educated about its safe uses, especially since these uses can save lives.