Fukushima Nuclear Facility: What About Food Safety?

Damaged nuclear reactors at the Fukushima facility resulted in elevated radiation levels near the power plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Most recently, questions from the United States have focused on the safety of food imported from Japan. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  have answered the call for information. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) have also issued food safety statements.


A few answers from the FDA

What food products come to the US from Japan?

Foods imported from Japan make up less than 4 percent of foods imported from all sources. The most common food products imported from Japan include seafood, snack foods and processed fruits and vegetables. Dairy products make up only one-tenth of one percent of all FDA-regulated products imported from Japan.

Is there any reason for concern about radiation from these products when they are imported into the US?

There are no concerns for products that were already in transit when the explosion occurred at the reactor. Right now, due to the damage to the Japanese infrastructure, FDA believes export activity is severely limited. FDA is monitoring all import records for Japan to determine when importation will resume.

How does the FDA protect the US food supply?

There are more than 900 investigators and 450 analysts in FDA’s Foods program who conduct inspections and

An FDA micorbiologist mixes seafood samples with an enrichment broth to test for microorganisms
FDA microbiologist

 collect and analyze product samples. The FDA oversees the importation of regulated products, including food and animal feed, among other responsibilities. The Agency carries out targeted (those that may pose a significant public health threat) risk-based analyses of imports at points of entry. Although FDA doesn’t physically inspect every product, the Agency electronically screens 100 percent of imported food products before they reach our borders.

What are the current procedures for measuring radiation contamination in food?

FDA has procedures and laboratory techniques for measuring radionuclide levels in food, and can also use the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN). FERN integrates the nation’s food-testing laboratories at the local, state and federal levels into a network that is able to respond to emergencies involving biological, chemical or radiological contamination of food. FDA is working with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to share resources and techniques for measuring contamination. FDA and other domestic regulatory labs have validated analytical methods to detect radiological contamination in food.

How will the radiation affect fish and seafood that have not yet been fished or harvested?

The quantity of water in the Pacific Ocean is great enough to rapidly and effectively dilute radioactive material, so fish and seafood are likely to be unaffected. However, FDA is taking all steps to evaluate and measure any contamination in fish presented for import into the US.

Related EDEN page: Nuclear Release

Radiation Basics

As you hear more news from Japan about the nuclear facility disasters, you may find it useful to know some basics about radiation. Ray Burden, EDEN TN delegate provides that information below.

What is radiation? Radiation is the invisible energy emitted by certain types of unstable (or radioactive) atoms. This energy travels through the air, but cannot be seen, felt, smelled, or tasted.

Are there different types of radiation? The four types of radiation emitted by radioactive material are alpha, beta, gamma, and neutron radiation.

Is there a difference between exposure and contamination? With exposure the radiation, but not the radioactive material, reaches the person. The source of radiation (radioactive material) is not on the person and not inside the person, therefore, the person is not contaminated. Contamination may be external or internal. An externally contaminated person has radiological material physically attached to his or her skin and/or hair. Internal contamination and internal exposure occurs when unprotected people ingest, inhale, or are wounded by radioactive material.

Radioactive material can enter the body by four methods:

  • Inhalation—Gaseous or airborne particles, dust particulates, and matter with radioactive material may enter the body through the lungs.
  • Ingestion—Internal radioactive contamination may enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract by way of contaminated food, drink, and swallowing contaminated mucous from the nasal area.
  • Absorption—Radioactive material may be absorbed through the skin or mucous membranes.
  • Puncture or injection—Radioactive material can penetrate the body through cuts, wounds, and punctures in the skin.

Individuals should use the principles of time, distance, and shielding to avoid radiological materials:

  • Time—Minimize time spent near a radioactive source or radioactive contamination. The less time exposed to source of radiation, the lower the dose received.
  • Distance—Maximize the distance from a radioactive source or radioactive contamination. Keep as much distance as possible between oneself and the source of radiation. The farther one is from the source, the lower the dose received.
  • Shielding

Regards, Virginia Morgan, EDEN Chair

A RADiological Approach

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, stopped the EDEN Radiological Education team from beginning the process of assembling and interpreting the science-based radiological research necessary to educate the non-radiological community–general public–about what to do in the event of a radiological disaster.Taking an all-hazards view, the team determined that there is basic background information everyone needs. Audience-specific content will build on this science base and will follow the prepare, respond and recover phases of disasters.

When you think of a radiological event, what comes to mind? Nuclear plant events, transportation accidents, terrorist activities? What do you consider to be the most common misconceptions about radiological events?

Participating in the Nashville session: Ray Burden (PI), Gordon Cleveland, Curt Emmanuel, Abby Lillpop, and Virginia Morgan.