by Manuel Orozco, Food Safety Professional 

With the implementation of the Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Controls (HARPC) for human food regulation provision in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), all food manufacturers are required to have a food safety plan.  

The risk assessment component of this plan requires food manufacturers to assess radiological risks and establish preventive controls, which raises the question: what types of radiological risks are we talking about?  

Let’s start with the basics. Radioactivity is the term used to describe the natural process by which some atoms, such as Radium 228 and Uranium 235, spontaneously disintegrate, emitting both particles and energy as they transform into different, more stable atoms. While unstable isotopes tend to transform into a more stable state, radioactivity will decay.  

Radiation refers to the particles or energy released during this decay in the form of particles, such as neutrons, alpha particles, and beta particles, or waves of pure energy, such as gamma and X-rays. We are exposed to radiation daily, as it comes from space, electronic devices, and in the form of radionucleotides (radioactive isotopes of elements) naturally present in the soil, water, and air.  

Exposure to very high levels of radiation can cause severe health effects such as skin burns and acute radiation syndrome, which is commonly referred to as radiation sickness. It can also result in long-term health issues, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Low levels of radiation found in the environment do not pose immediate health risks, but they are a minor factor in the overall risk of cancer. 

Certain geographical locations have a high natural presence of radioactive minerals, which may end up as radioactive isotopes in your food supply chain. When you assess potential radiological hazards in your operation’s hazard analysis, you should consider the source of water used in your manufacturing processes. Ask your potable source water for details or test it regularly to understand your potential risks.  

nuclear power plant radioactive cropped

Since the Radionuclides Final Rule was published on December 7, 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates radionuclides in drinking water to protect public health. This regulation sets new monitoring requirements for community water systems (CWS) to ensure customers receive water that does not exceed maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for radionuclides in drinking water. 

Radionuclides can also be released in the environment by accident from a nuclear facility reactor, as happened in Fukushima, Japan after the 2011 accident. Therefore, agriculture, food, feed, forestry, and fishing are at risk of radiological contamination.  

If you want to evaluate possible radiological hazards, successfully understand these risks, and remove them from your foods, you may have to dig into your food supply chain to identify the sources of your product, including raw materials, ingredients, and packaging materials. 

Other useful resources you might want to consider: 

HACCP Online Training, which will teach you how to identify food safety hazards and implement science-based controls to maintain integrity. 

Nuclear Accidents and Radioactive Contamination Foods by the World Health Organization. 

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