Can I safely eat whatever goes through the x-ray machine?

  • This might be an odd question, but I often take a sandwich or fruit to eat while waiting for the airplane. This means that my food goes through the security x-ray machine.

    I don't understand much about radioactivity, so I was wondering: Is it safe to eat that food right after going through the security machine? or suffer harmful mutations that can affect ones health? Can it keep some latent/cumulative radioactive effect?

    Bananas, by nature have a very low level of radioactivity. Does it get increased, for example?

    Can I safely eat the food that goes through the x-ray machine after the security check?

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

    Keep in mind that some of the full body scanners you walk into at airports use backscattered X Ray scanners, it's possible this question also applies to the food you've already eaten, though I would still agree with wakas answer

    To answer the question in the title: no, most things that go through the x-ray machine are not safe to eat. (Yeah, I know, lame. Couldn't help myself.)

  • waka

    waka Correct answer

    3 years ago

    Is it safe to eat food, drink beverages, use medicine, or apply cosmetics if any of these products have gone through a cabinet x-ray system?

    There are no known adverse effects from eating food, drinking beverages, using medicine, or applying cosmetics that have been irradiated by a cabinet x ray system used for security screening.

    The radiation dose typically received by objects scanned by a cabinet x-ray system is 1 millirad or less. The average dose rate from background radiation is 360 millirad per year. The minimum dose used in food irradiation for food preservation or destruction of parasites or pathogens is 30,000 rad.

    For more detailed information on radiation used for food inspection or food treatment, see Title 21 CFR 179,, contact FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Nutrition, or contact the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service.

    Souce: The US Food and Drug Administration Home Page (see Question 8)

    Good reference! It should be pointed out that the 30,000 (thirty thousand) rad used to preserve food is actually 30,000,0000 (thirty million) millirad, so your food has likely already been exposed to thirty million times more radiation than it gets from the X-Ray machine.

    @SamSkuce Yes, but which food manufacturers actually do this? Plus this presumably wouldn't apply to whole-foods (only processed).

    @Cloud It could apply (and possibly *only* applies) to non-processed foods (provided you don't consider the irradiation itself "processing"). The FDA's list at only lists 'non-processed' foods. 'Processed' foods probably wouldn't need it.

    This is actually missing the point, in a bad way. It assumes that food which has been radiated by 1 millirad somehow carries that one millirad of radiation outside the X-ray scanner. That's not how radiation works. Yes, there's such a thing as _activation_, where radiated materials become radioactive themselves, but unless you're radiating uranium or plutonium with neutrons that's a limited effect. There's virtually no activation of food by X-rays, so you'd be looking at **microrads** at most, not millirads

    @MSalters: It says "it recieves a certain amount which is significantly less than what it has been exposed to by background radiation", which isn't the same as saying "it carries this radiation outside".

    @waka: Yes, that's exactly my point. It's talking about an irrelevant radiation amount (inside scanner), which is independent from radiation outside the scanner.

    @SamSkuce the example that was always used when I learnt about this in my Physics classes was fresh strawberries. They go off primarily due to the bacteria on them breaking them down. Radiation treatment typically gives them roughly an extra week of shelf life with no chemicals used, and no harmful effects remain. This is why "pick your own" strawberries don't last as long as ones bought in a shop (though those in the shop may be older when you buy them, so lifetime in your fridge may be roughly the same).

    @MSalters: But the answers says: "The radiation it recieves inside the scanner is less than what it recieves outside". I think it's safe to assume that they are also saying "and thus the radiation it recieves inside the scanner will most likely not affect the food in a negative way". At least that's how I understand it.

    @waka: You understand it wrong, but I'm not blaming you. I am criticizing the answer, for misleading you and others. We're not worried about damage done to the sandwich. It's already dead, it doesn't matter how much radiation goes through it, whether from background radiation or from the scanner itself. **Both** numbers (1/scan and 360/year) are irrelevant.

    @MSalters I'm pretty sure it's harmful to eat plasma, so I don't see how dose is irrelevant.

    @MSalters: I'm really, really confused where you pulled that from. *Exactly which sentence* in the answer "assumes the food which has been radiated somehow carries that radiation outside the X-ray scanner"? I don't even see a *hint* of that in the answer. As far as I can tell the answer's logic is literally "we add < 1% on top of background radiation so common sense says there you shouldn't expect a problem in this case *even if* you thought too much radiation was somehow a problem".

    @Mehrdad: The answer talks about the **dose received** inside the scanner. Who cares? It might be 1 millirem, it could be 1 kilorem. As long as the radiation stays inside the scanner, it can't reach me, and it can't harm me. That makes it incomparable to background radiation, which does reach me and does harm me.

    @MSalters: I mean maybe you'd worry that it might alter the food chemistry...

    @waka The question is not concerned with the damage done to the consumption, it is concerned with the damage done to the consumer. The question assumes little to no understanding of radiation, hence answering what dose of radiation the consumption receives does not (fully) answer the question (and might mislead the uninformed reader); what dose of radiation might the consumer expect to receive? And might one expect other adverse effects?

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM