From what I've read, non-ionizing EM radiation is harmless. There is little evidence that it causes any health issues. This is also the consensus here on Skeptics, that's the case in mobile phone related questions and microwave related questions.

So let's assume that cooking food with non-ionizing radation is safe.

Which leads to my question:

Does eating food which was exposed to ionizing EM radiation pose a health risk? The DNA material found in that food would most likely be seriously damaged, but does that even matter? Human food is in essence a dead organism. A dead DNA will not be active, it will not reproduce nor generate any proteins even when damaged. In the worst case scenario, we'd just eat a dead cancerous cell.

At least that's my theory. Enlighten me!

This also leads to a highly related sub-question: Is eating dead cancerous cells dangerous?

Possible answers that refute my theory:

  • Eating dead cancerous cells is dangerous.

  • Ionizing radiation has some dangerous effects beyond crippling the DNA of the food.

  • The DNA is still somewhat active, even in a dead organism.

  • Other.

  • 1
    Can someone find a notable claim that eating such food is harmless/harmful so we can bring this on-topic?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 12:56
  • How about this: organicconsumers.org/irradlink.cfm
    – Twinkles
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 12:58
  • Or this one for the other side of the argument: fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm261680.htm
    – Twinkles
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 13:01
  • 1
    People do believe that putting food through ionizing radiation makes it dangerous.
    – user5582
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 14:45
  • @Articuno I agree they do. So it shouldn't be too hard to reference such a claim in the question. That is our usual standard.
    – matt_black
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 21:50

1 Answer 1


The United States General Accounting Office wrote in a Report to Congressional Requesters in 2000:

Scientific studies conducted by public and private researchers worldwide over the past 50 years support the benefits of food irradiation while indicating minimal potential risks. For example, an expert committee convened by the World Health Organization reviewed the findings of over 500 studies and concluded that food irradiation creates no toxicological, microbiological, or nutritional problems. Cited benefits of food irradiation include (1) reducing foodborne pathogens; (2) extending the shelf life of some fruits and vegetables by preventing sprouting, deactivating mold, and killing bacteria; and (3) controlling insect pests—thus reducing the need for environmentally harmful fumigants. These studies have not borne out concerns about the safety of consuming irradiated foods. For example, the studies indicated that chemical compounds in irradiated food are generally the same as those in cooked foods, and any differences do not put consumers at risk. As for nutritional quality, the main components of food—carbohydrates, protein, and fats—undergo minimal change during irradiation, and vitamin loss corresponds to that in foods that are cooked, canned, or held in cold storage.

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