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X-ray Inspection of Food – How Safe is it?

Food & Beverage

Eagle considers the facts and figures that demonstrate the safety of x-ray inspection.

Often traditionally associated with medical and dental treatments, the use of x-rays has always been handled with respect and care by those professionally involved with them. Now that x-ray inspection systems are part of food safety procedures, it’s no surprise that many food manufacturers are concerned about the safety of x-ray machines in the food inspection process.

Whilst it’s right that people should be wary of radiation, the fact is that radiation levels used by x-ray inspection systems for food are very low plus x-ray inspection equipment is highly regulated and operates within very high safety limits.

Why use x-rays?

The reason that x-ray is used in food inspection is because x-rays are exceptionally good at identifying unwanted foreign bodies in food such as ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals and stainless steel. They can also detect glass, bone, stone, plastic and rubber compounds. In addition, x-ray inspection of food can carry out other functions including measuring mass and counting components, identifying missing or broken products, monitoring fill levels, inspecting seal integrity and checking for damaged products or packaging.

What are x-rays?

To understand why x-ray inspection systems are safe for food, it’s firstly important to understand what x-rays are: they can be defined as a form of electromagnetic radiation, like light or radio waves. The wavelength of x-rays allows them to pass through materials and hidden foreign bodies, such as glass or metal, can be detected because they reflect more x-rays than the surrounding food.

A safe level of radiation

The level of x-rays used to inspect food is reassuringly small; the amount of x-ray exposure an operator receives from an x-ray inspection machine in the food industry is far less than the amount that every human being absorbs from naturally occurring background radiation that’s all around us.

There is also scientific evidence to show that x-rays do not harm food. A 1997 study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed that food radiation levels up to 10,000 Gy (a measurement of radiation) do not affect food safety or nutritional value – and the dose of 10,000 Gy of radiation is around ten million times as strong as those used in x-ray inspection – proving that x-ray inspection equipment remains well within the bounds of safety.

Consumers experience no change in quality

The safety of x-raying food is supported by the fact that leading brands across the world use x-ray inspection systems. Those manufacturers who have switched to x-ray inspection find that consumers experience no change in food quality. This is hardly surprising when you consider that the dose levels used in food x-ray inspection are less than one ten millionth of those used in the WHO study.

No harmful effects

Food that passes through an x-ray inspection system spends less than one second in the x-ray beam. During that short time, it receives a radiation dose so low that even organic food can be subject to x-ray inspection with no diminution of its organic status.

So, the fact is that food which has passed through an x-ray inspection system is as good and tasty to eat as it was before it was scanned. There are no measurable changes to flavors, textures or nutritional values – and food that has been x-rayed is indistinguishable in every respect from food that hasn’t.

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