Importing irradiated food

Last updated:
26 August 2009
In the UK, local authorities and port health authorities are responsible for controlling imports of irradiated foods, including appropriate testing. Certain foods that have been irradiated may be imported into the UK, as long as they comply with certain rules.

The Food Irradiation (England) Regulations 2009 set out the requirements for producing, importing and selling irradiated food in the UK Parallel legislation exists in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The regulations include details of the seven categories of food that may be irradiated before importation to and sale in the UK, the licensing of food irradiation facilities and Regulation 5 sets out the restrictions applying to imports.

These Regulations have been amended by The Food Irradiation (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010, which updates the lists of approved food irradiation facilities.

Food irradiated at a facility in a non-European Union country (a non-EU irradiation facility)

Imported food that has been irradiated in a non-EU country is permitted in the UK as long as it:

  • is one of the seven categories of irradiated food allowed in the UK (fruit, vegetables, cereals, bulbs and tubers, dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings, fish and shellfish, and poultry)
  • was properly irradiated in a food irradiation facility approved by the European Community and, in the case of food other than dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings, that facility has an approval issued by the competent authority in that country that specifically relates to the food being imported
  • is labelled 'irradiated' or 'treated with ionising radiation'
  • is accompanied by full and correct documentation relating to the irradiation treatment

This applies to food which has (as well as has not) become an ingredient of other food.

At present, there are ten European Community approved facilities in non-EU countries; three in both South Africa and India, two in Thailand, one in Switzerland and one in Turkey. It is the responsibility of the importer to ensure that the facility where the food was irradiated has an approval to irradiate that category of food.

The rules and details of the approved facilities are detailed in the following EC decisions:

Food irradiated at a facility in a Member State

Imported food that has been irradiated in a Member State is permitted in the UK as long as it:

  • is one of the seven categories of irradiated food allowed in the UK (fruit, vegetables, cereals, bulbs and tubers, dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings, fish and shellfish, and poultry)
  • was irradiated in a plant authorised by the Competent Authority of that Member State
  • is labelled 'irradiated' or 'treated with ionising radiation'
  • is accompanied by full and correct documentation relating to the irradiation treatment

This applies to food which has (as well as has not) become an ingredient of other food.

This is Food Standards Agency advice; ultimately it would be for a court of law to decide whether in particular circumstances an offence has been committed.

You can read a list of approved irradiation facilities in EU Member States on the EU website.