The recent fatal anthrax attacks that have struck in the US appear to have increased public support for the irradiation of food. Irradiation technology has been used to eliminate anthrax spores in contaminated mail, bringing the benefits of the technology to the forefront.

A Porter Novelli telephone survey of 1008 adults conducted early this month found that 52% of consumers said the government should require irradiation to ensure a safe food supply. This contrasts starkly with a similar survey carried out last year, when only 11% of consumers said they would buy irradiated foods if available.

About two thirds (64%) of the consumers who took part in the survey expressed concern about the contamination of the US food supply with anthrax or other biological agents.

Food irradiation is the process of exposing food products to ionizing energy for a specified length of time. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that the process is safe and effective in decreasing or eliminating harmful bacteria and has approved irradiation of a variety of foods, including meat, poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables, and spices.

“Irradiation has the ability to make food safer by destroying harmful microorganisms that can cause food to spoil and cause illness,” said Michael Osterholm of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “Its use can help reduce or eliminate health threats from such pathogens as salmonella, campylobacter, e.coli 0157:H7 and even anthrax.”

To see more comprehensive results of the survey, click here.

To read an indepth feature on the issues surrounding food irradiation, click here.