So I usually buy irradiated beef. From what I understand, the beef is packaged, sealed, and the absolutely blasted with radiation. I'm a nuclear engineer for a living, so I know that most things tend to die when exposed to the levels of dose that this beef is subject to. Normally food spoils by having bacteria and mold and such munch away on it, but here, all of that should be dead.

If its perfectly sealed away, and there's nothing living inside the package, how can it spoil?


Your assumption that there is nothing living inside the package is incorrect. Food irradiation does not sterilise the food. It is very, but not totally effective. Therefore, given enough time, the meat will still spoil.

Irradiation does effect the quality of the food, so I imagine a balance needs to be struck between safety and quality.

  • Can you elaborate on how it effects the quality?
    – wnnmaw
    Aug 13 '14 at 13:57
  • 2
    You probably also know that radiation strong enough to kill undesirable bacteria and the like is also strong enough to damage other cell walls and denature amino acids. Those compose a part of the structure of your beef; damage them, and you'll wind up with quality issues like moisture loss. I'd add that you're also assuming a perfectly sealed package, which isn't very likely either.
    – logophobe
    Aug 13 '14 at 14:13
  • Irradiation can be used to achieve complete sterilization (e.g., NASA does so for some of the stuff they're sending into space), but it has a much larger quality impact. It can also be used in much smaller doses to, e.g., prevent pest spread (e.g., kill or render infertile insects in produce), with very little quality impact. As you suspect, there is a balance to be struck there.
    – derobert
    Aug 13 '14 at 15:48
  • 2
    Natural enzymes in the meat will also continue to operate and break down the meat like in a dry-aging process. Refrigeration or freezing will slow that down of course.
    – Rosa
    Aug 13 '14 at 18:55
  • and of course the package will never be completely impregnable. So something may well get in after it was irradiated.
    – jwenting
    Aug 14 '14 at 9:23

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