A forum on food safety this past week at Drake University in Des Moines included a survey that showed Iowans are concerned about food safety in the wake of several recent outbreaks of illness. Food irradiation was once touted as a way to prevent food borne illness, but it has not caught on. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says it’s something that should be part of the discussion.
Harkin says he’s been a proponent of food irradiation for 20-some years and he thinks it’s still a good solution for many fruits and vegetables. But Harkin says right now there’s not a wide public acceptance of irradiation. Harkin, a Democrat, says part of the problem is a misconception of what irradiation is.
"When you say irradiation, people think you’re radiating food. I call it electronic pasteurization, because you’re not using anything radioactive," Harkin says. He says you have to think about it like a low-level microwave oven. At one time people were afraid of getting to close to microwaves, but now they use them all the time without fear.
Harkin says there needs to be a public education campaign to explain what takes place and how irradiation can make food safer.