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Irradiation of Cat Food: Is it Safe?

Food safety is important to you and your pet. This means handling pet food as you would your own – keeping in mind how easy salmonella can be transmitted from food to the countertop to a host. Salmonella (and E. coli) doesn’t care whose host body it invades; both you and your pet can get sick.

Fortunately, a recent ruling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made pet food safer. The FDA approved the use of irradiation for all pet foods.

Irradiation is a process that uses ionizing radiation to kill dangerous bacteria in food and nonfood products. The radiation causes a chemical – not a nuclear – change similar to cooking or preservation methods. The food does not actually “cook,” but bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and vibrio die. The process is similar to pasteurization. The food is still fresh, and much safer than before. It also has a longer shelf life.

The FDA approved the use of irradiation for all pet foods in April 2001. Previously, it had been approved for use in feeds for laboratory animals. Irradiation is not new. Human food products – such as potatoes and wheat flour – had been routinely irradiated since the 1960s. As more studies show the benefits of irradiation, that list has been widely expanded.

Irradiated food has been a somewhat controversial topic in the last few years because the process is only recently being used to kill harmful bacteria present in beef and other meats. The common fear is that the process somehow makes the food itself radioactive.

This is a misperception. The food does not undergo any sort of radioactive change. Most of the world’s major public and private health institutions endorse the process, including:

There are three types of irradiation. The first is X-ray, which is the most versatile method because it penetrates food more thoroughly. The second type is electron beam irradiation. An electron beam is fired at flat or thin products. The third type is gamma irradiation, which uses isotopes and is designed specifically for food or medical products.

Even though pet food and most human foods are irradiated, you must still practice food safety. The process kills many, but not all, bacteria. Food can also be re-contaminated if not properly stored, or if the food is old. Always wash your hands before and after handling meats, and immediately wipe down counter and utensils after handling raw meat.