Ionizing radiation can be used to control insect and microbial infestation of foodstuffs, inhibit sprouting, delay ripening and reduce the dangers from food-poisoning bacteria. Irradiation produces free radicals, most of which decay rapidly, although some are more persistent. These latter radicals can be detected and characterized by electron spin resonance (ESR). In bone and other calcified tissues, the radiation-induced radicals are distinguishable from naturally occurring radicals, and their stability makes them ideal for radiation dosimetry. The radicals induced in plant material, such as seeds and dried spices, are generally indistinguishable from the endogenous radicals and decay over a period of days or weeks. However, in many of these materials, a radiation-specific radical can be detected at low concentration, thereby permitting identification of irradiated samples, although precluding accurate dosimetry. ESR, although not universally applicable, currently provides the most specific method for the detection of irradiated food.

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