March 21, 2011 / 9:51 AM / 9 years ago

Factbox - WHO information on radiation and food safety

(Reuters) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued information on food safety, after reports that some food in Japan has been contaminated with radiation.

Following is the WHO’s information on food safety concerns:

* A number of compounds are of particular concern for food contamination. Among others, isotopes of strontium, notably strontium 90, isotopes of iodine, notably iodine 131, and isotopes of caesium, notably caesium 137, are the most important.

“Generally, produce and in particular leafy greens as well as animal products such as milk and eggs are of the greatest concern for possible contamination,” the WHO said.

* Leafy greens will be most exposed to direct contact from contaminated air. Meat, milk and egg products will be at risk of contamination through the animal eating contaminated grass or feed.

* Water can be contaminated, though it is not possible to estimate to what extent marine life will be affected until data is collected from the affected areas, and from seafood harvested from the affected areas.

* Processed products such as canned foods are unlikely to contain potentially contaminated raw material because of the existing safety and quality screening mechanisms already in place in the food industry.

* Consuming contaminated food could increase the risk of certain cancers in the future. Iodine has been identified as a concern through food analysis in Japan. Although radioactive iodine has a short half-life of about eight days and decays naturally within a matter of weeks, there is a short-term risk to human health if radioactive iodine in food is absorbed into the human body. If ingested, it can accumulate in and cause damage to the thyroid.

* Children and young people are particularly at risk of thyroid damage due to the ingestion of radioactive iodine.

* Contaminated food cannot be easily or practically de-contaminated. If it is contaminated at levels that would be harmful for human health, it should be safely disposed of.

* There are internationally agreed guideline levels that apply to radioactivity contained in foods destined for international trade.

These are published by the Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission: here

Food below these guideline levels are safe for people to eat, and when the guideline levels are exceeded, national governments must decide whether and under what circumstances the food should be allow to be distributed within their territory or jurisdiction.

* It is dangerous to take large amounts of iodised salt in order to increase the amount of stable iodine in the body.

Source: World Health Organisation

Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Editing by Ben Blanchard and Daniel Magnowski

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