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Foodstuffs Treated with Ionising Radiation

EU legislation

Directive 1999/2/EC (OJ L 66, p16, 13/03/99) of 22 February 1999 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States concerning foods and food ingredients treated with ionising radiation

Directive 1999/3/EC (OJ L 66, p24, 13/03/99) of 22 February 1999 on the establishment of a Community list of foods and food ingredients treated with ionising radiation

Commission Decision 2002/840/EC (OJ L 287, p40, 25/10/2002) of 23 October 2002 adopting the list of approved facilities in third countries for the irradiation of foods

Amended by

National legislation

S.I. No. 297 of 2000 gives effect to Council Directive 1999/2/EC and 1999/3/EC and sets out the rules for the irradiation of foodstuffs in Ireland.

The S.I. defines irradiated foods as foodstuffs which have been treated with a certain type of radiant energy known as ionising radiation. It applies to the manufacture, marketing and importation of foods and food ingredients treated with ionising radiation.

The rules do not apply to foodstuffs exposed to ionising radiation generated by measuring or inspection devices within certain specified limits, or to foodstuffs which are prepared for patients requiring sterile diets under medical supervision.

Foods can only be irradiated where there is a reasonable technological need such as to prevent the germination of some vegetables and benefit to the consumer and with a permitted purpose such as reducing the incidence of disease. It cannot be used as a substitute for good hygienic or agricultural practices. Approved sources of ionising radiation must be used within the maximum limits. The words irradiated or treated with ionising radiation must appear on the label or packaging.

Foodstuffs may only be irradiated in :

An EU-wide list of products authorised for irradiation within the EU currently only authorises dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings with a maximum permitted dose of 10 kiloGray (kGy). Permitted sources of ionising radiation are set down gamma rays, X-rays and electrons of certain characteristics. National Authorisations for other foodstuffs exist in seven Member States (BE, CZ, FR, IT, NL, PL and UK) allowing the irradiation of certain foods and can be maintained until the completed EU-wide list of products authorised for irradiation enters into force. The other Member States may still restrict or ban these irradiated foodstuffs because they are not on the EU list. Foods under consideration for inclusion on the EU list include, chicken meat, egg white, gum arabic, frog legs and peeled shrimps.

In Ireland, the competent authorities are:

  • Food Unit, Department of Health for policy matters
  • Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for irradiation facilities
  • Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) for irradiated food.

Two Public Analyst Laboratories (Cork and Galway) have been identified as 'designated' laboratories for the purpose of food analysis in accordance with these Regulations.

National authorisations

Irradiation facilities used for food irradiation in Ireland must be licensed by the RPII for a licence which is known as a 'food irradiation licence'. The conditions of the licence are mainly concerned with the safety aspects of using a source of radiation and to ensure that the facility is capable of administering the appropriate dosage to the specified food.

In addition to the licence granted by the RPII, a person who proposes to irradiate food must apply to the FSAI for a permit. The 'permit' enables a person to irradiate food at the specified irradiation facility. Conditions for granting the permit will include compliance of the facility with general food hygiene requirements and compliance with the dosage limits for the foodstuffs. Permits and licences are generally valid for a period of three years, with provision for revocation where necessary.

The European Commission publishes a report on food irradiation each year. Further information on food irradiation is available on the European Commission website.