Improving food safety through irradiation technology: GAEC’s contribution

Today marks World Food Safety Day. It is observed annually on June 7 to remind global citizens of food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism, and sustainable development through the prevention, detection, and management of food contamination.

Food safety does not only contribute to preventing sicknesses and deaths caused by disease-causing organisms but also bars improper food quality control during food processing.

Additionally, it has reduced to its barest minimum, the environmental contamination, misuse of agricultural chemicals, and the use of unapproved food additives.

In Ghana, there is a growing awareness of food safety, hence citizens are mindful of street food and additives to food. Consequently, food safety has become central in public health, food security, and trading at the international level.

It is imperative to note that safety systems for improving food safety rely on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), as well as nuclear techniques.

Over the years, the traditional methods of preservation, such as drying, smoking, and salting have been supplemented with pasteurization, canning, and refrigeration, freezing, and chemical preservatives.

However, one such method of food preservation is nuclear techniques which support the development and use of food irradiation according to international norms. It promotes the use of nuclear and related methods to verify food authenticity and measure agrochemical (pesticide and veterinary drug residue) levels in food.

Food irradiation is a technology that enhances food quality and reduces the risk of contamination. Food irradiation is used on a commercial scale for controlling spoilage, destroying disease-causing organisms such as bacteria, and controlling insect pests. This technology can be used in post-harvest treatment to extend the shelf life without affecting the safety, nutrition, or quality of food.

Food irradiation is a technology that enhances food quality and reduces the risk of contamination. Food irradiation is used on a commercial scale for controlling spoilage, destroying disease-causing organisms such as bacteria, and pests controlling.

This technology can be used in postharvest treatment to extend the shelf life without affecting the safety, nutrition, or quality of food.

Food irradiation is a proven technology that has the potential for enhancing food quality in Ghana. Why has this technology not been explored to its fullest, even though it bears so much potential for food security?

The Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute (BNARI) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) is mandated to carry out commercial, research, and development activities for the socio-economic advancement of Ghana.

As a nuclear research institution, it oversees the safe application of nuclear techniques such as food irradiation. A technology, BNARI has helped the food industry with and still doing.

More than 100 years of research have gone into the safe and effective use of irradiation (radiation processing) as a food safety method, more than any other technology used in the food industry today.

Owing to this, international bodies including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Codex Alimentarius have commended the process.

More than 50 countries have approved over 60 products to be irradiated. The USA, China, The Netherlands, Belgium, Brazil, Thailand, and Australia are among the leaders in adopting the technology. Ghana is opportune amongst a few sub-Saharan African countries to have this technology.

The applications of food irradiation include sprouting inhibition (bulbs and tubers), inactivation of parasites (meat, fresh-cut salads), insect control (pulses, cereals, dry fish), inactivation of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella or E. coli (seafood, meat, and poultry, refrigerated or frozen) and shelf-life extension (ready-to-eat meals, some fruit, and vegetables).

For example, Phytosanitary irradiation is being used in India to effectively process mango for export to the USA. The irradiation process ensures that no invasive insect pests reproduce upon reaching their destination.

In Latin America, Mexico is leading the way with the irradiation of large volumes of mangoes, citrus, guava, and peppers. After irradiation, these fruits are exported to the USA without alternative postharvest quarantine measures which could be harmful.

In addition to the environmental benefit derived from irradiation, this process enhances trade and has a positive social impact on farmers, industries, and employment.

Food irradiation helps to make food safer, protects crops, and helps secure international trade of plant products. Therefore, to be highly competitive in the international market there is also the need for government to put systems in place to wholly adopt food irradiation technology as a food safety method.

Furthermore, there is a need to establish public-private partnerships to invest in irradiation facilities for food preservation.

By: Mr. Stanley Acquah

The writer is a Principal Technologist at the Radiation Technology Centre of the BNARI at GAEC