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What is food irradiation?

Foods from the conventional (non-organic) farming sector may go through a process called food irradiation. For example, in my home country of New Zealand, imported herbs, spices, herbal teas, tomatoes, capsicums and tropical fruit are among the foods that may have been irradiated.

But the process can be applied anywhere in the world. Alison White, convenor of the Safe Food Campaign explains that food which is irradiated gets exposed to gamma rays, or a high energy electron beam, or x-rays.




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Why is food irradiated?

There are a few reasons that your food may have been irradiated.

  • To disrupt the development of any insects that may be concealed within fresh produce
  • As an effective and cost-efficient alternative to commonly used toxic insecticides
  • Extended shelf life via delayed ripening
  • To help lower the incidence of food-borne illnesses

The above reasons for food irradiation all sound like great ones. But are the potential harmful consequences being downplayed?

The possible dangers of food irradiation

The scientific community is still asking questions around nutrient loss, free radical production and changes to antioxidant properties of irradiated foods.  The Food Irradiation Watch website addresses the reasons that consumers should be concerned.  These range from links to cancer and immune system disorders to reproductive problems and nutritional deficiencies. The website also covers safe alternatives to irradiation.

Will this be yet another case of ‘innocent until proven guilty’? It seems to happen all too often in the world of conventional farming.  DDT, a commonly used pesticide of the past with strong links to the polio virus was removed AFTER the risks were realized.  Similarly, in today’s world we are questioning the use of glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the widely used herbicide, Roundup.

Ways to avoid food irradiation

Whether it is proven to be safe or not, consumers should have a right to know whether their food has been irradiated.  This enables you to tread with caution if you wish to.  There are a few things you can do in New Zealand to avoid irradiated food.

  • Purchase certified organic food. Organic standards do not allow food irradiation
  • Buy local produce because New Zealand does not have any irradiation plants.
  • Ask your favorite brands whether they have an irradiation free policy and then choose accordingly.  Even if the spices and teas you are using were made in New Zealand, they could be using imported ingredients that have been irradiated.








Where to get organic products

IHerb is a great ‘go-to’ online health shop for certified organic and natural products and they deliver all over the world.

They stock a massive range of groceries, household items and personal care products.  Not all the products are organic but each item is clearly labelled with all information and ingredients.  Therefore it is easy to find organic if that is what you are looking for.  Try typing ‘certified organic’ into the search box, or search by brands that you know are certified organic.

Click here to check out what they have on offer and see latest prices.

Read more about the advantages of organic farming

Monsanto Roundup may be the best weed killer, but what is it doing to your health?

Soil and health – the basis for Organics

It’s more sustainable and it costs less!

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I write for a number of publications and generally publish a blog once a week about finding ways to enjoy a more happy and healthy lifestyle.

I also come across a lot of useful healthy information all the time. If I find something of value, I'd love to share it with you.

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Also published on Medium.


  • Jessica

    I had NO idea this happened. I usually purchase organic or locally grown foods but I had no idea this was a process conventionally grown food underwent.

    • Elly McGuinness

      Yes, there’s a lot that seems to go under the radar in the food industry. I learned about this when we owned an organic delivery service. I’m not sure about what foods may have been irradiated in other countries. I know that NZ has no irradiation plants, so any locally produced food won’t have been irradiated (although it’s possible that if they use imported ingredients, that the individual ingredients could have been). For other countries you would need to do a bit of investigation to find out what sort of foods and brands might be using irradiation. I did a bit of investigation into common herbal tea brands in NZ, and I asked them directly whether they had an irradiation free policy. Some did, but I was surprised to see that one of the main brands, even with the word ‘health’ in their title did not. I must see if I can find the document I put together when I was investigating, and I’ll see if I can link it to this post:)

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