A public opinion survey has surfaced in Canada that shows folks do not know much about food irradiation, but suggests they might support its use.


The 65-year old Consumer Association of Canada released the Food Irradiation Survey last week. It was conducted last Feb. 7 and 8 by Angus Reid Public Opinion in Vancouver, BC.  It operates under the name Springboard in the U.S. and U.K.

Going into the online survey, the 1,006 responding Canadians were dominated by 57 percent who did not have a clue about food irradiation.  A 38 percent minority of those surveyed said they’d heard of food irradiation, while 5 percent were not sure.

Here’s what the survey participants were told:  “Food irradiation is defined as: ‘a method of preserving food by using a type of radiation energy.’  It is one of several techniques that can be used by food producers to protect the quality of food before it reaches the grocery store.”

Next the survey found 66 percent of those polled strongly or moderately favor giving consumers the choice of purchasing food items such as salad greens, chicken, hamburger, or deli meats that have gone through irradiation.  The other 34 percent said they were moderately or strongly opposed to such a choice.

As for whether they’d likely be taking advantage of such a choice, the survey found that 54 percent of participants were very or somewhat likely to purchase irradiated food.  The other 46 percent considered themselves not very likely or not likely at all to buy irradiated food items.

CAC is an independent, nonprofit and volunteer-based chartable organization that focuses on a variety of issues, including food.  It’s been active on labeling and organic issues and currently has task forces on food biotechnology and “nutraceuticals”–  the marriage of nutrition and pharmaceutical world where a food or food product might have health and medical benefits.

CAC President Bruce Cran said the survey shows a majority of Canadians want a choice when it comes to irradiating certain food items for safety. University of Manitoba food science and microbiology professor Rick Holley predicts that by irradiating poultry, Canada could reduce foodborne illnesses by 25 percent annually.

Health Canada has not completed the scientific review required for a pending application to irradiate ground beef, poultry, shrimp and prawns, and mangoes.

Four years ago, 22 mostly elderly Canadians were killed in a Listeria outbreak that was traced to deli meats from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.

The survey did find the vast majority of Canadians – 85 percent – are now aware that “harmful bacteria such a Listeria and E. coli have been found in salad greens, chicken, hamburger, and deli meats sold in Canadian grocery stores.”

Only 12 percent said they were unaware that products sold to the public in grocery stores can be contaminated with pathogens, and 3 percent did not know either way.  Seventy-two percent and 71 percent of those surveyed said they were moderately or very concerned, respectively, about the safety of chicken meat and hamburger.  

The number of survey participants who said they were very or moderately concerned about  the safety of deli meat (68 percent) and salad greens (64 percent) was also high.   

The margin of error for the Angus Reid survey is plus or minus 3.1 percent.  Results are statistically weighted according to Statistics Canada’s most current education, age, gender and region census data.  Such weighting ensures that the survey is representative of Canada’s entire adult population, according to the polling firm.