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How to Spot Irradiated Produce in the Grocery Store (Hint: It’s not Obvious)

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Food irradiation is a process that “improves the safety and extends the shelf life of foods” by applying ionizing radiation to food. What the what??

You know how you start out innocently on the internet and see something of interest so you click? And pretty soon you’ve disappeared down a rabbit hole and your dishes still need to be washed and laundry needs to be hung and you never planted those seeds? That’s how this started.

Irradiation of food

I don’t recall how I came across this information about food irradiation. Or what prompted me to say, “Hey, wait a minute!” and dig a little deeper. I had no intention of writing about food irradiation but here I am.

Will this make you more self-sufficient? Maybe in a roundabout way, if you decide that you’d just as soon avoid treated food. Perhaps not. Maybe you don’t care if you’re eating irradiated food. Me? I want you to at least know what you’re putting in your mouth and have the opportunity to make a conscious decision.

green beans in a wooden box

Related: GMO Food: Why it’s a Concern for All of Us

Spotting food irradiation

Irradiated foods look no different than those that have not been irradiated. A benign looking graphic indicates that a food product has been irradiated. This FDA website says:

FDA requires that irradiated foods bear the international symbol for irradiation.

Look for the Radura symbol along with the statement “Treated with radiation” or “Treated by irradiation” on the food label.

Bulk foods, such as fruits and vegetables, must be individually labeled or to have a label next to the sale container. FDA does not require that individual ingredients in multi-ingredient foods (e.g., spices) be labeled.

The symbol for food irradiation: a broken green circle with a flower shape inside it

Well, isn’t that sweet. That pretty little flower doesn’t mean “grown in the sunshine” like you might guess.

But that’s not all.

Chasing internet butterflies, I ran across the term “cold pasteurized.”

While there’s all kinds of inference on the internet, I wasn’t able to find a definitive answer as to what, exactly, that meant.

So I contacted the FDA. Here’s what they had to say:

[C]old pasteurization is defined as the treatment of fresh or processed foods with ionizing radiation that inactivates biological contaminants (insects, molds, parasites, or bacteria), rendering foods safe to consume and extending their storage lifetime.

While I did not ask the FDA about the term “electronic pasteurization,” it’s also been linked to food irradiation.

fresh fruit for sale, prices on a blackboard

Related: Is Organic Food as Clean as You’d Like to Believe?

Questions about food irradiation remain

Can organic foods be irradiated? Happily, no. Just as opting for an ‘organic’ label means the food cannot be genetically modified, foods labeled ‘organic’ cannot be irradiated.

Here’s what the EPA says:

Foods which have been irradiated, no matter how they are grown or produced, cannot be labeled as USDA certified organic.

  • These questions remain:
  • Are products that are repackaged by the grocery store – think meat that’s been packaged into different cuts – required to carry the Radura symbol for retail sale?
  • Or is that FDA requirement fulfilled as long as the meat was marked when it arrived at the back door?

Want to know more about food irradiation? In the “It’s fine, don’t worry, trust us” category we have:

And in the “WTF are they thinking?” category:

So there you have it. A couple of extra little clues to help you maneuver the grocery store. Or another solid nudge to encourage you to grow your own food or seek out a local farmer.

What about you? Does the idea of irradiated food worry you?

fresh tangerines evenly spaced on a deep blue background (from above) with words: Identifying irradiated food

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

56 comments… add one
  • Jane Boursaw Feb 9, 2012, 7:54 am

    Oh geesh. We always buy organic bananas at the local food co-op, but it looks like even those could be irradiated? I will be looking for that friendly little symbol that’s not so environmentally friendly or safe for us.

    • John Jul 23, 2019, 10:56 am

      All bananas including organic are radioactive. They contain the radioactive isotope Potassium-40.
      Irradiating food does not make it radioactive, it just makes it safe without chemicals.
      Organic vegetables that are grown in animal feces are 1,000 times more dangerous to human heath than regular vegetables (think salmonella and ecoli), and 100,000 times more dangerous than irradiated vegetables.
      That’s called science.

      • David Bowman Aug 28, 2019, 9:07 am

        After reading the animal studies on irradiated food I wouldn’t exactly call it safe! Also if we all ate sterilized food we’d have no immunity. I’d much rather eat fresh organic natural highly mineralized foods grown in cow manure. Studies show the more microbes and germs we are exposed to as well as from animals the stronger our immune systems and bacterial biome become which is a good thing if you want to live a longer healthier life.

  • Heather Anderson Feb 9, 2012, 8:12 am

    This is a good reminder. We grow a lot of food, and try to buy locally whenever we can. However, bananas are one thing we buy fairly frequently. I have known about radiation but not thought about it for a while. By the way, I believe that organic canNOT be irradiated. I know I’ll be checking into it again.

    • Gail Gardner Nov 3, 2015, 2:16 pm

      According to an organic guide: “Organic food must not be produced using ionizing radiation and therefore is a good choice for anyone seeking to avoid irradiated alternatives.”

  • awakewellness Feb 9, 2012, 8:36 am

    Thanks for sharing this info – I had no idea that there was a handy graphic to let us know when a food has been irradiated. Personally, I’m in the ‘avoid irradiated food when I can’ camp – if it’s killing the bad for you things that may be on or in a food, it’s likely killing the good for you stuff too. It’s too bad that there’s such an easy and loophole to get through to not include the symbol though. I imagine that most irradiated ingredients end up being processed into something else.

  • wisehabits Feb 9, 2012, 8:56 am

    Thank you for sharing this information. I had no idea there was a symbol for irradiated foods. I just checked my bananas and they are clear. 🙂 Out of curiosity I’ll have to go check out some of the produce in the local big-box grocery store . . .the one I don’t shop at because they have nothing organic or local.

    • Attainable Sustainable Feb 10, 2012, 8:28 pm

      @wisehabits I’m curious, too! I’m going to start really keeping an eye out for this.

  • Merrilee Feb 9, 2012, 9:14 am

    Hi everybody! As a PhD microbiologist, and grower of my own garden, I always seek out the freshest local food when possible. However, living in central PA, USA there’s not much available during the long winter months. I actually LOVE the irradiated food idea, much preferable to chemical pesticides. The potential for contamination by bacteria during growing, harvesting, and shipping is enormous, and I’m glad we have some options when it comes to food safety treatments. Just wanted you to hear from “the other side!”

    • Dina Mar 28, 2015, 1:16 am

      Irradiated food is extremely bad for us.It is like putting the food in a microwave oven.Will you ever microwave your banana before you eat it ? I had a chat with a kinesiologist one day.He said people who eat microwaved food they through themselves out of electromagnetic balance and they get sick more easily because their immune system is compromised trying to come back to normal all the time.
      From own individual research all bananas are irradiated.Some of them only with bactericidal ultraviolet radiation for one or two minutes and that is why they turn from green to black without turning to yellow.
      That said, it doesn’t mean that yellow bananas are not irradiated.They are irradiated with bactericidal radiation first for one or two minutes and then they are exposed to photo reactivating light for 15 -60 minutes that way the browning is prevented and they will turn yellow during ripening.
      So the answer is if we want natural food buy local produce.If you are in the UK do not eat bananas.Eat the fruits that grow in the UK,it is that simple.Thank you .

      • Floyd Jun 15, 2019, 2:22 pm

        Irradiated food is not bad for us at all, unless eating food with bad live bacteria and live insects is good for us. Most of the e. coli outbreaks we have seen over the last several years could have been prevented through irradiation, as the contamination was at the source of the produce, and would have been eliminated by irradiation. Irradiation has sickened no one and killed no one, unlike e. coli. And e. coli is only one of many food-borne illnesses that could be so prevented.

    • Patti Aug 3, 2016, 11:23 pm

      Erp.

      • Patti Aug 3, 2016, 11:26 pm

        “Erp” was meant for Merilee’s comment.

    • Richard Fennell Feb 2, 2019, 5:10 am

      Agreed, Merrilee. There are lots of wild conspiracy theories on how radiation works, like the assumption that exposure to radiation makes an object radioactive. That’s just silly. It’s the same as believing exposure to light will cause an object to also start producing its own light. Irradiation isn’t dangerous, and neither is microwaving your food. “Kinesiologist” is neither a licensed nor professional designation in the US nor most other countries, and there is absolutely nothing about that field of study that would qualify an individual to speak with any manner of authority on the subject of food irradiation. However, I will give you this… the fact that irradiation effectively kills microorganisms associated with spoilage also means it kills beneficial bacteria needed for fermentation projects. If you want to make your own kimchi or ginger bug, it’s best to head over to the organic aisle where all the necessary little creepy crawlies hang out.

      There is nothing about microwaving your food that’ll “throw you out of electromagnetic balance”. Terms like that don’t even mean anything. It’s nonsense. There is nothing about the irradiation process that makes food harmful to consume. If anything, the opposite is true. Settle down, people.

      • Kristof Sibilla Oct 4, 2019, 9:50 am

        There is not even one micro life in the whole Universe which is against us,the whole micro and macro world is continuously balancing its self for our benefit,so called disease,is there only to help us to get to the right path of living and consuming.

    • Jef Spalding Feb 12, 2019, 7:27 pm

      Dear Merilee, Sad to say, your PHD in microbiology must not have included any ecology. As one responder mentioned, what about the beneficial bacteria irradiated/killed by food irradiation? A rich microbiome is synonymous with good health, especially in pesticide free living foods. Irradiation may be like an antibiotic, helping to destabilize our gut biome, leading to disease as leaky gut lining and other unpredictable problems associated with an unstable ecosystem

  • JaneDSalemi Feb 9, 2012, 9:18 am

    I love this post. It’s very timely for me. I was just talking about this subject with my kids as we were picking out fruit at our local natural market. Can organic foods be irradiated?

  • JaneDSalemi Feb 9, 2012, 9:28 am

    I love this post. It’s very timely for me. I was just talking about this subject with my kids as we were picking out fruit at our local natural market. We came up with questions like “Can organic food be irradiated? and since we already knew the hazards of chemical pesticides on our bodies, we started wondering what the hazards of irradiation were for people?

  • Alexandra Feb 9, 2012, 1:51 pm

    Will keep my eyes open even wider while shopping. Thanks for this tip.

  • Emily Strawser Feb 9, 2012, 2:57 pm

    I really appreciate the knowledge that you share with us all!

  • Alexandra Dibble Pitts Feb 9, 2012, 2:58 pm

    Thank you! I really appreciate you digging into this even if it meant a sink full of unwashed dishes.

  • Sheryl Feb 9, 2012, 4:30 pm

    That’s kind of disturbing; having a symbol like that look like a GOOD thing. So misleading, I think. Thanks for the intel!

  • Karen Feb 10, 2012, 10:33 am

    That certainly is a concerning topic but I’m happy to say I’ve never seen that symbol on any of the food that I bring into my house. I’m very familiar with the labels on every piece of our food and I’ve yet to see that one.

  • merr Feb 10, 2012, 3:21 pm

    I’ll be hypervigilant from now on when I see stickers on fruit. I mean, I already am vigilant, but this calls for hyper.

  • MyKidsEatSquid Feb 10, 2012, 5:08 pm

    Interesting–so what do you make of Merrilee’s comments? As a Midwestern too in the long winter months fresh produce tends to come from warmer places

  • Attainable Sustainable Feb 10, 2012, 8:27 pm

    Merrilee, what makes you think that irradiated food = less pesticides? I honestly don’t think one has anything to do with another. Correct me if I’m wrong? (Have you considered preserving some of your garden’s bounty to get you through the winter months?)

    • Merrilee Feb 13, 2012, 5:24 pm

      @Attainable Sustainable I agree that pesticides/irradiation might not be mutually exclusive. I definitely do canning/freezing as much as possible, but our winters are brutal, and I crave greens, strawberries, blueberries, etc this time of year when we can’t have the fresh version. I still wash those items to remove residues, but for eggs (I have my own chickens, but this time of year laying slows way down) and fresh veggies, irradiation is an option I look for. It’s funny, because pesticides don’t need to be labelled on the final product! At least the labelling gives the option to choose it (or not, which is also fine by me). Here in the north (26 deg F right now) I just can’t wait for spring! Love your blog, and ideas for preserving the harvest!

    • Patti Aug 3, 2016, 11:10 pm

      Yup! Our genetic predecessors managed to survive the long, cold winters through preserving food various ways. My Scandinavian great great gparents came from Tromso City (Arctic Circle) and both lived into their 80s. If you are worried about vitamin C have some pine needle tea. Seriously have some faith in your biology biologist! Don’t be dogmatic.
      Attainable sustainable is correct. Adding irradiation with all of it’s breakdown products DOES NOT eliminate the possibility of herbicides and pesticides. I personally want to eat as closely to nature as possible for myself and the world that needs me to. I don’t want to be a greedy stupid ungrateful human.

  • Attainable Sustainable Feb 10, 2012, 8:33 pm

    I responded the other day to Merrilee, but it seems to have disappeared. Just added a response, below. Essentially, I don’t think irradiation has anything to do with preventing pesticide use.

  • ruth pennebaker Feb 13, 2012, 1:10 pm

    It’s so hard to be shocked these days. But, once again, I’m shocked by what you have to watch out for.

  • jeanine barone Feb 18, 2012, 7:33 am

    I’m very opposed to irradiating fruits and vegetables. So it’s good to know how to recognize which ones have been irradiated. I guess it’s not all that curious that they would design a graphic that’s oh-so-benign instead of simply attaching an accepted radiation symbol to the product. Who would buy it, then? Might as well look like it’s a flower growing in your garden. (That’s what the symbol looks like to me.

  • jeanine barone Feb 18, 2012, 7:34 am

    I’m very opposed to irradiating fruits and vegetables. So it’s good to know how to recognize which ones have been irradiated. I guess it’s not all that curious that they would design a graphic that’s oh-so-benign instead of simply attaching an accepted radiation symbol to the product. Who would buy it, then? Might as well look like it’s a flower growing in your garden. (That’s what the symbol looks like to me.

  • JCreatureTravel Feb 18, 2012, 7:35 am

    I’m very opposed to irradiating fruits and vegetables. So it’s good to know how to recognize which ones have been irradiated. I guess it’s not all that curious that they would design a graphic that’s oh-so-benign instead of simply attaching an accepted radiation symbol to the product. Who would buy it, then? Might as well look like it’s a flower growing in your garden. (That’s what the symbol looks like to me.

  • JCreatureTravel Feb 18, 2012, 7:38 am

    I’m very opposed to irradiating fruits and vegetables. So it’s good to know how to recognize which ones have been irradiated. I guess it’s not all that curious that they would design a graphic that’s oh-so-benign instead of simply attaching an accepted radiation symbol to the product. Who would buy it, then? Might as well look like it’s a flower growing in your garden. (That’s what the symbol looks like to me.

  • Angie Abella Jul 24, 2012, 10:18 am

    considering bananas aren’t exactly natural to the US, there shouldn’t be complaints. There’s demand for them, and other nations supply it. Be grateful. My FIL used to sell bananas he and his family grew–in Cuba. There’s also spiders in those bananas, and a nice bite is deadly, depending on what country you’re in when you pick them. Why so picky on things–be grateful the Lord provides for you, instead of questioning where He provides it from!

    • John Mar 11, 2015, 2:32 pm

      My “God” is not a for profit food distributor, and to me, the key to this is in your opening statement bananas are not indigenous to the USA, and many of the health conscious consider that alone plenty of reason to avoid them.
      Local foods have as strong a following as do organics, and there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest eating locally produced foods is a key part of healthy eating.

      • Patti Aug 3, 2016, 11:22 pm

        Well put 🙂 A little critical thinking vs muddy thinking lol. It’s pretty easy for the FDA/food industry to dupe many of us. All you can do is keep trying to make people understand then support good farming yourself. As more and more people stop buying aldulterated food in favor if the real thing we might just turn a corner.

  • Robin Jul 24, 2012, 10:21 am

    Irridated food is just another example of killing the good to manage a potential bad that could be better managed by sustainable, organic practices. I don’t use a microwave for the same reason. Any food product maybe irridiated and in no way reflects the level of pesticides used to grow it. We have been brainwashed that we must have all types of fresh foods year round. But these items raised in countries using pesticides we banned decades ago, travelling thousands of miles are hardly fresh foods no matter there appearance. Eat local, grown and preserve what you can, eat seasonal. I’d rather eat a dried or home canned fig or peach in January than a “fresh” peach from Peru.

    • John Mar 11, 2015, 2:42 pm

      I recall as a child, begging my grandmother for some watermelon that was tempting me in the store, in Michigan in January. Born in 1895, she had some rather “old fashioned” views. She denied my request, and informed me that it was “out of season” and not a healthy thing to indulge in. She had lots of “quirky” notions like that which are much more common now in the new millennium than they were back in the 1960’s, which seem to have served her well, through cancer and a number of other heath threats, until she died in 1989, at age 93, after steadfastly refusing to eat or drink anything after being placed in a nursing home, defiantly proclaiming that was why she had a living will, and no one was going to prevent her from leaving this world on her own terms.
      And she was right. It was iron clad, not a thing anyone could do, but read the Word to her as I did that long summer, and I still recall vividly the blissful peace that descended on her, as the angels came to carry her home.
      It was the only funeral I have ever attended where the dearly departed beamed a big smile at the bereaved throughout. And I smiled right back.

      • Patti Aug 3, 2016, 11:50 pm

        I loved that John 🙂 Yes, the generation that was born at that end of the 19th century was a bridge to the old times. Before the 20th century everyone had to know how to grow their own food, preserve it and prepare it. I don’t if your grandma’s rejection of an out of season watermelon was intuitive or came from some lost wisdom or both. We have few instincts about our food now. I thinkef these got severed after WW II. Growing up I remember hearing that it wasn’t good to eat between meals and that bread and potatoes could make you fat. These days we have so little faith in our bodies that people snack continually. The food industry just loves the idea of us having many small meals through out the day (and night.) Anyway, your grandma appears to be one of those very wise elders who acts as a compass for generations following…a bridge to a more practical, sustainable time. My grandparents taught me too. I teach my sons :-). Thank you. PS sorry for all the errors. I can’t correct them without starting all over for some reason.

  • Attainable Sustainable Jul 24, 2012, 4:41 pm

    Angie: It’s not just bananas – that just happened to be the one I used for the title. I’m grateful every time I sit down to eat a meal – much more so when I know that it’s been grown as Mother Nature intended. You bring up a good point, though. Buying fruit from other nations (or say, the state of Hawaii) or out of season is definitely not a very sustainable option. Better to buy local from a farmer who doesn’t irradiate his food.

  • Ajfoco Sep 19, 2012, 2:44 pm

    I hate to break the news to everyone, but you should look into how irradiated (not irridated Robin) your food is naturally. If you eat bananas, organic or not, you eat potassium 40, naturally irradiated, Brazil nut also have isotopes that are radioactive. Radiation bombards us from the sun every day, we have levels of radiation in our tissue. But these are safe levels, you need to understand that there is not good and bad foods, every good thing has a tipping scale where it becomes bad, and radiation treatment of your food isinsignificant compared to what is already in it. If you want to avoid irradiated food stop eating, and buy a lead roof while your at it.

    • Patti Aug 4, 2016, 12:02 am

      Ajfoco. Yet none of the natural sources of radiation that you cite suffice to kill microbes and enzymes of various types (good and bad) so that our blessed FDA still feels compelled to bombard our food rendering it tasteless and toxic. We evolved to tolerate background radiation but not the sort we are routinely exposed to today. Hey, why don’t you move to Chernobyl? It’s all the same gamma rays (shrug.)

  • bradc44 Oct 2, 2012, 4:42 am

    i had no idea foods where treated with radiation..pretty scary stuff! Another reason to eat organic.
    https://www.landrememberedrestaurant.com

  • E. Michael Jul 20, 2017, 8:50 am

    Seems like we have little choice but to take matters into our own hands and start our own farming communities that we (the people, not big agriculture) owns and operates. How on earth do we do that in urban city centers?

    Thank you for this necessary and vital spotlight! Please add me to any email list for future articles. You’re doing very important work! Thank you for sharing!

  • awosoji Feb 1, 2018, 1:22 am

    I irradiated food safe for consumption in pregnancy?

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 3, 2018, 3:21 pm

      I’m not an expert on this. Ask your doctor?

  • Tawny Haley Feb 25, 2018, 7:38 am

    Is there a small device that could read veggies or other products for higher than normal radiation?

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 27, 2018, 10:32 am

      Not that I’m aware of, but that would be cool.

  • dana Oct 24, 2018, 7:40 am

    I am confused. I was just eating a guava and noticed the label stating that it was irradated (in super small writing)
    I don’t want to play devil’s advocate, as I am all for organic, but what exactly is bad about the irradation? Does the food become toxic? UV rays can be good as well (vitamin D production).
    What is the outcome of eating treated food versus bacteria laden food which may have not been treated?
    I’m sad because my list of foods to eat is becoming increasingly smaller.

  • Serb Oct 29, 2018, 7:36 am

    Iradiated food contains polymer alvilecyclobutanat.
    It speeds up any cancer in body, malign or benign.
    French scientist from Strasbourg discover all that in 2003, they shut-down all his funds,
    after he publish his work.
    Australia has big cats disease on malfunction of back leggs. Becaus of food.
    Discover what they do to You.
    Every mauld on face is because irradiated meat.
    French TV made good show about this.

  • Alessia Austin Apr 12, 2019, 11:26 am

    The article is really great, really appreciated. There is one more blog which is also related to this and the blog is https://healthycounter.com/is-your-food-making-you-sick/ It is the one of my favorites blog and now the second one blog which I like is that your blog.

    Thank you for sharing with us.

  • Sunny Lovestedt Jul 17, 2019, 2:27 pm

    I have a difficult time believing that the radura label is on all irradiated food. Although I haven’t been to a “worldly” supermarket in many years, the health food stores I shop in have some un-organic foods – and none are labeled.
    The reason why I’m doubtful is when I plant the seeds of the ORGANIC fruits or vegetables (I.e., lemons, avocados, beans, etc), they don’t sprout! One avocado seed had started to sprout while still in the avocado, after growing in there till about 3/4”, it stopped growing with a blunt- looking cut-off. I tried to sprout it for many weeks to no avail. Until a couple of years ago, the seeds always sprouted .
    I’m almost done with store bought produce. If I can’t grow it or buy it from a nearby organic farm, I don’t want it for my family.
    Thank you so much for all your research!

  • David Aug 28, 2019, 9:37 am

    I know for a fact that all non-organic mangos coming in from Mexico to all US ports are required to be irradiated in Mexico and be accompanied by the (proof of irradiation) stamped pre-clearance form 203. I have never seen any irradiation symbols or text on any Mexican mangoes which is why I avoid them now especially after reading animal studies on food irradiation. I assume most imported fruits and vegetables into the u.s. are treated the same way.

    • Cassie Jan 17, 2020, 6:47 am

      David,
      I just read your comment. I have recently been researching food irradiation, and it seems everyone has gone silent on this issue. If you have any current information or resources, I would be so thankful. I am of the understanding that as part of the trade agreements, and through the regulations of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)and WHO (World Health Organization) they are using irradiation for “safety” on import/exports. It is also my understanding that as part of these trade agreements, the regulations of the U.N. are higher than that of the independent countries regulations. i.e. Certified Organic Standards. I also contacted Florida Crystals Organic Sugar to inquire about the cornstarch used in their powdered sugar. I was told that they could not verify that the corn used was non-GMO. I am fully aware of Certified Organic products that DO have GMO ingredients. Labels really have no integrity. If anyone has any updated information, please share. Thank You

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