Use of food irradiation in Europe has continued to fall, according to recently released figures.

More than 5,000 tons of foodstuffs were irradiated in EU member states in 2020 and 2021 compared to 7,832 tons in 2018 and 2019.

Data was forwarded from member states to the European Commission for January 2020 to December 2021.

Food irradiation is the treatment of foodstuffs by ionizing radiation. It does not make food radioactive. Irradiation is used for sanitary and phytosanitary purposes to kill bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli that can cause food poisoning and to eliminate organisms harmful to plants or plant products such as insects and other pests. It is also used to delay fruit ripening, to stop vegetables from sprouting or germination, and to extend product shelf life.

Food and ingredients can only be treated with ionizing radiation in permitted facilities. At the end of December 2021, there were 22 approved sites in 13 EU countries. France had the most with five, followed by Germany with four.

Frog legs are still top irradiated product
A total of 5,029 tons of foodstuffs were subject to ionizing irradiation in member states in 2020 and 2021. Treatment occurred mainly in Belgium, with more than 4,100 tons of food irradiated. France was second with 273 tons. Bulgaria, Italy, and Romania did not irradiate any foodstuffs from 2020 to 2021.

The main product irradiated was frog legs, followed by poultry and dried aromatic herbs, spices, and vegetable seasoning.

Any food or ingredient must be labeled “irradiated” or “treated with ionizing radiation”.

Twenty-four member states analyzed 7,667 samples at the product marketing stage, down from almost 10,000 samples in the 2018 to 2019 reporting period.

Germany took more than 4,100 samples. The next highest was Italy with 792. Denmark did not perform any checks because of budget constraints. Cyprus and Estonia cited a lack of laboratory capacity for not doing these controls.

From the samples tested, 66 were not compliant, and 80 gave inconclusive results. The non-compliances were mainly incorrect labeling and forbidden irradiation. The percentage of non-compliance was slightly lower than in the previous reporting period.

A recent EU evaluation found that as long as industry and consumers are reluctant about irradiated foods, legislation will have a negligible impact on the use of the technology.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved various foods for irradiation, including beef and pork; crustaceans such as lobster, shrimp, and crab; fresh fruits and vegetables; lettuce and spinach; poultry; shell eggs and spices and seasonings.

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