Irradiation is a dreaded word for many consumers because of its association with the atomic bombs that rained on the people in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during the second World War making their lives miserable for many years. In spite of tremendous efforts made to educate the consumers about the safety of irradiation technology for food protection, the lingering doubts and skepticism make it difficult to adopt this as an industry standard. Many countries have given clearance to irradiation of many foods and global trade in certain foods is dependent on safety certification based on gamma radiation processing. That ubiquitous X-Rays, which are different from gamma rays, can be as effective as the latter, has been known for some time now but did not receive attention it deserves because of insufficient data on its efficacy in many products. The increasing threat of microbial contamination of fresh produce is forcing the food scientists to carry out more studies on using X-Rays for these category of foods.
"Barakat Mahmoud, assistant professor of food safety and microbiology at Mississippi State University, said the RS 2400 X-ray machine can eliminate E.coli, vibrio, salmonella, cronobacter sakazakii, shigella and Listeria monocytogenes from seafood, dairy products and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and lettuce. A method for use on tomatoes is also currently under development. "The irradiation process, which he said is one of the first to use X-rays, takes just minutes, extends shelf-life and does not alter the visual quality of the produce. Spinach, lettuce and other fresh vegetables last 30 days longer after the spoilage bacteria are eliminated".
Probably the word "irradiation" may still give the X-Ray preservation technique a bad name and a better terminology needs to be found to differentiate it from gamma radiation. Thousands of X-Ray machines are working all over the world as diagnostic tools, making it familiar to the common man and using same machine for food preservation may find ready acceptance. The logic is that if X-Rays cannot harm the human body, naturally it may not harm the food also. The added advantage is that X-Ray machines are affordable to even the small scale processors while gamma irradiators are too expensive besides being tightly controlled by the governments. The atomic energy establishment in India can look at this option for helping the food industry in the country by standardizing techniques for preservation of different foods, fresh as well as the packed ones for domestic and export markets. The fact that X-Ray machines are now being indigenously made in India at costs much less than that for imported ones makes the option more attractive to the domestic food industry.