Some meat and fish products, in particular canned food, could be treated with radiation in small doses in order to extend their shelf life, a group of Russian scientists has claimed.
The country’s leading nuclear institution, including Budker’s Institute of Nuclear Physics and Obninsk Institute of Radiology, have conducted an experiment in which they have treated some food products with doses of radiation between 3 kGy (kilogray*) and 6 kGy.
Such kind of exposure has been found to kill up to 99.9% of microorganisms on the products and, as a result, the shelf life of preserved meat, in particular, increased more than fourfold, from the standard 10 days to nearly 45 days, the scientists estimated.
Also, use of the radiation has been found to be absolutely safe for end-consumers. Russian scientists also stressed that the taste of the product was not affected in any way.
Russia adopted its first National State Standard, commonly known as GOSTs, on the treatment of food products with radiation in 2016. Since that time, such treatment has reportedly been used on some batches of grain, crops and species, but not products intended for human consumption.
Dmitry Balabolin, a Russian nuclear physicist, explained that the treatment of food with radiation was already used in Europe, China and especially widely in the USA, including on meat products. However, UN food standards require such products to be marked in a particular way.
Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom has already undertaken a pilot trial of radiation treatment on some food products, but it faced a problem in selling the concept, as the isotopes for such a system could not be distributed without strict control, Balabolin warned – primarily because it could be used by terrorists to make a rigid bomb.
Elena Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Consumer Rights Protection Society, also stressed that the delayed effect from the consumption of meat treated with radiation was poorly studied. According to her, some scientists have expressed concerns that such products could inhibit free radicals of the mutagen class, which, in turn, could be linked to cancer.
Technically, as of 2016, GOSTs allow the use of radiation on meat products, but as long as no official labelling for such products has been designed, its use in practice would be illegal, she added.
Technology could be tried abroad
Meanwhile, Rosatom can use the technology overseas. In late 2017 it signed an agreement to build a network of irradiation centres for food products in the Philippines. This will offer a commercial service providing ionising radiation treatment on products, Rosatom said in a statement on its website.
In 2016, Rosatom signed a similar agreement with Indian company Hindustan Agro, taking on an obligation to build 10 similar centres in the country at a cost of up to US$20 million each. Rosatom announced plans to make its first irradiation centre in India operational by 2018.
*Kilogray is a derived metric measurement unit of absorbed radiation dose of ionising radiation. The kilogray is equal to 1,000 gray (1000Gy) and the gray is defined as the absorption of one joule of ionising radiation by one kilogram of matter (eg tissue).