Bacteria, viruses, and everything else are all sterilized by the radiation. Ionizing radiation is used because it's high energy, and is extremely dangerous to living tissue.... [T]he food coming out the other end — be it bread, milk, meat, fruit, or cheese — is absolutely sterile and, if properly sealed, will last longer on your shelf than virtually anything else in the supermarket....But Americans are too freaked out by it:
The circular green logo along with the words "Treated with irradiation" are so terrifying to much of the American public that the process has been put virtually out of business. Most Americans would prefer to accept a few E. coli deaths....Even though there is absolutely no radiation in the food that we would buy:
Food irradiation... does not place radioactive material onto the food. The food is placed in the radiation field, and then it's removed. Run a Geiger counter over it, and it shows zero. Food that's been irradiated is not radioactive.But we're too scared of this radiation to use it to protect ourselves from the very real bacteria in food that can kill us.
If we're overcautious to the point of irrationality about radiation, why then are we at all willing to let the government irradiate our bodies?
In April, four scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote a public letter to the White House warning that the government may have underestimated the dosage of ionizing radiation delivered to a person's skin from a backscatter machine by one or two orders of magnitude. The scientists, who have expertise in biochemistry, biophysics, oncology, and X-ray crystallography, pointed out that the government's estimate was based on radiation exposure for the entire body. During scanning, the majority of radiation will be focused on the surface of the body, meaning a more concentrated dose of radiation is delivered to the skin....
Ed Nickoloff, professor of radiology at Columbia University and chief hospital physicist at Columbia University Medical Center, says the data isn't yet clear either way. "At this point, until I knew more information, I'd tell people to take the pat-down," he says.Is it that we are not only irrational, but we are also irrational in our choice of what to be irrational about? I don't think so. Food radiation was something that businesses were permitted to do, but they stopped because we avoided buying the product. The government isn't asking us whether we want our bodies irradiated if we want to travel by plane. It's not like going to the grocery store and picking one package of hamburger instead of another. We still get our hamburger. We don't have a choice of flying with radiation or without radiation. The only choice the government gives us is not to fly or to accept a groping.