Frogs legs made up two thirds of the products irradiated in Europe in 2018 and 2019, but use of the food safety technique continued to fall, according to a report.

The three main commodities are frozen frog legs at 65.1 percent, poultry at 20.6 percent, and dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetables seasoning at 14 percent.

The report covers from January 2018 to December 2019 and includes information sent to the European Commission by 28 member states and Norway in 2018, and 27 member states in 2019. Latvia did not submit any data for the latter year.

Irradiation is the physical treatment of food with high-energy ionizing radiation. Food that has been irradiated or contains irradiated ingredients must be labelled. It is not radioactive.

The treatment is for sanitary and phytosanitary purposes to kill bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli, and to eliminate organisms harmful to plant products such as insects and other pests. It is also used to delay fruit ripening, stop vegetables such as onions and potatoes from sprouting or germination, and to extend shelf life.

Most irradiation in Belgium
Rules on foods and ingredients authorized for irradiation in the EU are not harmonized. Some countries allow it for fruit and vegetables including root vegetables; cereals, cereal flakes and rice flour; spices and condiments; fish and shellfish; fresh meats, poultry and frog legs; and raw milk camembert.

At the end of December 2019, there were 24 approved irradiation facilities in 14 countries: France had five, Germany had four, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Spain had two, while there was one each in Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom. However, Bulgaria, Italy, Romania and the UK did not irradiate any foodstuffs during 2018 to 2019.

A total of 7,832 tons of products were treated with ionizing irradiation in EU nations in 2018 and 2019, which was down by 23.3 percent compared to 2016 and 2017.

Treatment was mainly in Belgium with 81.4 percent, or 6,377 tons, of the irradiated food in the EU followed by Spain, France, Germany and Hungary.

The amount of foodstuffs treated by ionizing radiation in the EU has decreased since 2010 but went up slightly in 2019 from 2018. The EU Commission held a public comment period on the legal framework for food irradiation in 2020.

Product checks
A total of 9,808 samples were analyzed at the product marketing stage by 25 member states, which is 12.1 percent less than in 2016 to 2017. More than 5,000 of these checks were done by Germany, with Italy in second, Romania third and Poland fourth.

Denmark and Norway didn’t do any analytical checks at this stage in 2018 to 2019 because of budgetary restrictions. Cyprus cited a lack of laboratory capacity and Sweden said it had other control priorities.

From these samples, 83 were not compliant and 88 gave inconclusive results. The issues observed were mainly incorrect labelling and forbidden irradiation. The percentage of non-compliance was slightly higher than in previous years. The most non-compliances were found in Germany with 22, followed by 18 in France and 11 in Finland.

The majority of products analyzed were herbs and spices and cereals, seed, vegetables, fruit and their products. Food supplements and soups and sauces were also checked.

Alerts this year on the RASFF portal show unauthorized irradiation for fish products from Vietnam as well as a food supplement and grindelia extract, both from China.

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