How do I Add Radiological Hazards into My Food Safety Plan?

Radiological hazards are chemical hazards.
Radioactive chemicals emit harmful radiation that at large doses is harmful soon after exposure and at small doses is harmful years or decades later. Our food may become contaminated through the absorption of radioactive chemicals found in soil or water. Radioactive chemicals in air may settle onto food, water, or soil. Terms used to describe radioactive chemicals include: radioactive isotopes, radioactive elements, and radionuclides. Examples include: radioactive cesium, uranium, and strontium.

You may be familiar with radon testing before purchase of a home; this is standard practice in real estate. I was at the house we were purchasing when the radon test was done – it was a beautiful day, but I could not open the windows or the test would be invalid. Radon is a gas. When a radon test is done inside a house, the air is tested for a given time. (Our house passed the radon test.) Radon is not a chemical hazard of major concern in the food industry.

Radioactive chemicals are naturally present in some rock formations. As rainwater filters through soil and is collected in aquifers below the surface, the water may pick up radioactive chemicals. If your facility uses well water, research the location of the aquifer. What is known about the soil and rock formation surrounding the aquifer? Is the location known to have a risk of radioactive chemicals? If your facility uses municipal water, your water treatment facility tests for radioactive chemicals. Add your annual water report from your water treatment facility to your food safety plan. If you have questions on the report, talk with your local water treatment facility.

When you write your hazard analysis, include radiological hazard as a chemical hazard once for your water supply.
In the hazard analysis you may determine that the hazard does not require a preventive control and will remain as a Good Manufacturing Practice for potable water.

Approve suppliers using your own criteria.
If ingredients for your product include a crop, you may have concerns about the location of the field and water used for irrigation. Theoretically, there could be an uptake of radioactive chemicals if present in the soil or if present in the water used for irrigation. Know the location for the crop and communicate with your supplier if you have any concerns.

Radioactive chemicals are of concern after nuclear power plant accidents. In the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in what is now the Ukraine, plumes of radioactive material were sent into the air in updrafts from a steam explosion and resulting fire. The radioactive material settled into the surrounding area as the wind blew away from the facility. In the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan, a tsunami hit the coast. Loss of electricity to cooling pumps caused a reactor meltdown, explosions, and release of radioactive material to the air, ground water, and the Pacific Ocean.

What can you do about the potential for a nuclear power plant accident near you? First, locate the nearest nuclear power plant to your facility. The website for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a feature for locating nuclear power plants. Second, determine if you are within an emergency planning zone and review the plume exposure pathway. If your facility is within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant and an accident occurs, there is a ban of contaminated water and food.

When you write your hazard analysis, include radiological hazard as a chemical hazard for your location.
If your facility is within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, identify a hazard requiring a preventive control and write an emergency plan. Being prepared for an emergency is the best insurance that it won’t happen.

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Kathy Knutson, Ph.D., Lead Instructor for Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF), Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI), and trained in prevention of Intentional Adulteration (IA). She has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at