How Safe is X-ray Inspection of Food?
Every year, more and more household brands are subjecting their products to x-ray inspection to ensure they’re fit for consumption and meet consumers’ high expectations. However, that’s not a cause for fear and there’s no need to switch to brands that haven’t been x-rayed.
X-ray inspection of food doesn’t cause it to become radioactive, just as we don’t become radioactive after having a chest x-ray. Nor for that matter do our bags become radioactive when they pass through airport security. In fact, a bar of chocolate in our hand luggage is as safe to eat after it’s been through the security scanner as it was before (phew!).
X-ray inspection isn’t food irradiation
X-ray inspection shouldn’t be confused with food irradiation – a process used to destroy bacteria. Although the technologies are similar (both processes involve radiation), the radiation dose levels are worlds apart.
Food irradiation typically provides a dose level in excess of 1,000 Gy. To kill salmonella in chicken, for example, requires a radiation dose of 3,000 Gy. That’s roughly ten million times the dose of x-ray inspection in the food industry.
Food that passes through an x-ray inspection system spends less than 1 second in the x-ray beam. During that short time, it receives a radiation dose of around 1 uGy to 1.5 uGy (0.0000015 Gy).
What’s more, scientific evidence supports the fact that x-rays don’t harm food. A 1997 study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed that radiation levels up to 10,000 Gy don’t affect food’s safety or nutritional value.
Great-tasting safe food
Food and drink that’s good to eat before being x-rayed is just as tasty and nutritional afterwards. There are no measurable changes to flavours, textures or nutritional values, meaning products that have been x-rayed are indistinguishable in every respect from those that haven’t.
The real risk to our health comes from contaminants such as metal, glass, stone and bone and as x-ray systems are good at catching these, while simultaneously checking product integrity, x-ray inspection is undeniably a force for improving the safety and quality of our food and drink, not reducing it.
The paper answers some important questions for food manufacturers, including:
- Why use x-rays to inspect food?
- What are the effects of x-rays to flavours, textures and nutritional value of food?
- What is the difference between x-ray inspection and food irradiation?
- What is the difference between x-ray radiation and radioactivity? and
- How safe are x-ray systems used in the food industry?
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