The government should allow the generic use of irradiation technology - a process of exposing food to controlled radiations like gamma rays, X-rays, and accelerated electrons that kill harmful organisms - to prevent diseases and increase shelf life of food, says a top atomic scientist.
"The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act should be amended to allow irradiation of food products on a generic basis," Arun K. Sharma, head of the Food Technology Division of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), told IANS here.
BARC has the food products irradiation technology and has already signed 20 technology-transfer memorandums of understanding (MoUs). A couple of the firms are likely to start commercial operations soon.
Sharma said the recent export of Indian mangoes to the US has given a fillip to the food product irradiation process. BARC irradiated 157 tonnes of mangoes exported to the US at Rs.2 per kg at its Lasalgaon centre near Nasik in Maharashtra.
Currently, only limited food items are permitted for irradiation. The approved products include onion, potato, mango, spices, seafood, meat, rice and pulses.
Sharma said the radiation could be low, medium and high. Low-dose radiation inhibits sprouting in potato and onion, delays ripening of fruit, disinfects stored grain and pulses, and destroys parasites in meat and meat products.
A medium dose eliminates spoilage microbes in fresh fruit, meat and poultry. High-dose radiation sterilises food for special requirements and extends shelf life without refrigeration.
Sharma said the major advantage of the process is that irradiation is a physical non-additive and non-thermal process that causes minimal changes in food.
"Even packed food could be irradiated," he added.
According to him, commercial irradiation centres are coming up in Hyderabad, Ahmednagar in Maharashtra and Bangalore, with technology provided by BARC. He said an irradiation centre would involve an outlay of around Rs.70 million ($ 1.75 million).
"BARC will not get any royalty from the private parties. It gets a one-time fee of Rs.1 million for providing the technology," he added.