You Ask, Eagle Answers: Q&A on Radiation Safety and Regulatory Compliance

Christy Draus, Marketing Manager, Eagle Product Inspection

27 June 2018

While the word “radiation” can give people pause and bring to mind unsettling images, several research studies, global health organizations and governments have supported the safety of x-ray machinery in the inspection of food, pharmaceutical and other consumable products and the use of such systems by human workers.

X-ray technology has been around for more than 100 years and used all over the world and across several industries for medical, transportation and food safety purposes. But because of the equipment’s use of ionizing radiation – and probably because of the term “radiation” – some misconceptions and concerns still linger among some consumers and even manufacturers.

Any myths and questions related to the use of x-ray technology and its impact on both machine operators and consumable products can be allayed when discerning reality from perception – much like how an x-ray itself is analyzed in an effort to protect the safety of food, not to mention the integrity of a company or brand.

Get your facts straight with this infographic, “X-ray Technology for Product Inspection – See Through the Myths.”

Today we interview Mike Aker, Eagle Product Inspection X-ray and Radiation Lead Trainer, to talk about the most frequently asked questions regarding x-ray safety for food and pharma applications.

Question: Is x-ray inspection harmful to food or pharmaceutical products?

Answer: Food and pharmaceutical products inspected by x-ray systems receive a very low dose of radiation in a very short period of time. Contrary to some myths or misperceptions, it is impossible for x-ray inspection systems to cause food or pharmaceuticals to become radioactive nor will our x-ray systems reduce the nutritional/ medicinal value of the products. Several research studies have supported the safety of x-ray inspection, including findings from the World Health Organization.

Question: Is x-ray inspection harmful for those who operate the equipment?

Answer: Employee safety is paramount to employers as well as equipment operators. Regulations and protocols are in place to ensure worker safety, and the operation of today’s machinery is almost completely automated, allowing most operators to spend little time near the equipment. Even if they did stand near the machinery all day, they wouldn’t be exposed to harmful doses; encased x-ray systems don’t emit radiation and radiation is automatically shut off when the machine is powered down.

Question: Who regulates and monitors the use of x-ray systems within facilities that use the technology to inspect food and other consumables?

Answer: Ultimately, it is the equipment owner’s responsibility to ensure that x-ray equipment is operating safely. Manufacturers that install x-ray systems usually have a designated Radiation Safety Officer who is responsible for the safe use of the system and for regulatory compliance.

Radiation usage is highly regulated. Those who use x-ray systems follow a host of government regulations, including the UK Ionizing Radiation Regulations 2017 and the American Standard 1020.40 CFR among others, including various international regulations and standards. Several government entities oversee x-ray use: in the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for example, has oversight over the production of x-ray systems. Other groups involved in oversight and regulation of x-ray technology include the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S Occupational Health and Safety Administration (for radiation use in the workplace) and state regulatory agencies that work with companies that have installed x-ray machines. 

Question: What are some built-in safeguards in today’s x-ray systems used for the inspection of consumable products, including foods?

Answer: X-rays are powered electronically, which means they are switched on and off with no radiation produced when the system is off. X-ray generators, such as those in Eagle’s systems, are encased in stainless steel cabinets that have a visible light that signals when the system is in use. Other safeguards include automatic x-ray switch-offs, safety relays, and shielded curtains among other features.

As part of our services at Eagle Product Inspection, we support processors and manufacturers with safety training resources and programs dedicated to radiation safety.

To download a white paper on complying with regulations on the use of x-ray inspection, visit https://www.eaglepi.com/knowledge-center/white-papers/radiation-safety-in-food-inspection-how-to-ensure-full-regulatory-compliance/.