Is It Safe To Pass Food Through an X-Ray Machine at the Airport?

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happy family at airport security scanner

The next time you’re at the airport, you may decide to bring a few of your favorite snacks along through security so you can save money on the high prices at the gate. As with your other belongings, you must pass your food items through the x-ray machines when going through TSA. But you may wonder: Is it safe to pass food through an x-ray machine?

At TDI Packsys, our x-ray inspection technology helps food manufacturers ensure each product maintains perfect quality and consistency. As leaders in the food imaging industry, we’re here to shed light on how such machinery affects what you eat, the medications you take, and even your skincare products that may pass through security. Read on to learn whether consuming food that’s been through an x-ray machine is safe.

Is It Safe To Put Food Through Airport X-Ray Machines? Understanding Radiation Doses and Safety

Airport security scanners use a very low dose of radiation to maintain complete safety for everyone involved. Many people falsely assume the scanners used at TSA may be harmful, considering that the x-rays you may receive at a doctor’s office require much more careful screening.

Airport screening equipment is safe for all travelers, including pregnant women, young children, elderly travelers, and more. Unlike at the doctor’s office, you don’t need to wear a panoramic cape to protect critical organs as you pass through a TSA x-ray because the machinery emits such little radiation.

So, is it safe to put food through airport x-ray machines? Yes, all food, medications, or other products passed through an x-ray at the airport will remain safe to use or consume. According to the FDA, food, drinks, medications, or other products passed through x-ray systems used for security scanning should not cause harm or adverse effects.

For reference, the average radiation dose an object scanned by such a system would receive is around 1 millirad. The background radiation, on average, is about 360 millirem per year. Food preservation or parasite destruction requires a massive dose of 30,000 rad.

Does Food Show Up on an X-Ray?

So, does food show up on an x-ray? Yes, that’s how TSA officers can locate items in your belongings to ensure you’re only bringing approved items aboard your flight.

Airports enforce tight security measures to keep everyone safe. Because of this, you must pass all your belongings through the screening centers. While most airlines might be OK with you bringing food, you may be asked to throw away specific items if they do not adhere to TSA requirements.

For example, liquids above three ounces cannot pass through security. You may not be able to take large meals through, either.

X-Ray Effects on Food Quality

packed raw meats in conveyor belt of food x ray inspection

X-rays have additional important use cases beyond their functions in airport security centers or doctor’s offices. Aside from fresh produce, nearly all the food you find at your local grocery store has likely passed through an inspection system before hitting the shelf. X-ray machinery is critical in maintaining food quality and preventing harm to the consumer.

In day-to-day practice, x-rays do not reduce food quality with radiation; rather, they improve it. X-ray inspection systems keep your food safe by:

  • Removing harmful contaminants: X-ray machines don’t just locate large contaminants inside food products. Instead, inspection systems can detect even the smallest fragments of broken glass, stainless steel, bones, sandstone, salt lumps, and more that may enter food products during the manufacturing and production stages. By doing so, you don’t have to risk your health when eating the foods you love.
  • Locating anomalies: Many of your favorite snacks go through automated manufacturing and packing processes that can occasionally “hiccup,” causing irregularities like errors in package weight, density, size, etc. The last thing you want is to pay for a full box of cereal only to open it and find that it’s two-thirds full. X-ray machines improve food quality by locating such anomalies before they go to market.
  • Preventing food poisoning: Foodborne illnesses can occur when pathogens enter a product through a break in the seal, causing bacteria to grow and multiply. X-ray systems can prevent food poisoning by locating air bubbles inside the product, cracks or tears in the packaging, and other issues that would ultimately lead to an unsafe environment.

So, is it safe to pass food through an x-ray machine? Yes — and it’s actually helpful!

Do Organic-Labeled Foods Go Through X-Rays?

mother and child buying organic labeled fruits

When you see the “organic” label on your food, you might assume the item came directly from a fresh farm, never touching a factory or any manufacturing practices. The word “organic” in the food industry does not exactly mirror the word’s true definition. Whether a food product is organic depends on how it was grown, harvested, or farmed, not how it was treated after the fact.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to be organic, produce must grow in soil that has not received any prohibited substances, like specific fertilizers or pesticides, for at least three years. Organic meats must be raised in healthy living conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors, such as grazing. Farmers must feed these animals 100% organic food without hormones or antibiotics.

Once organic produce or meats leave the farm, they have typically already met all the criteria. So, do organic foods go through x-ray machines? Yes, nearly all organic foods, aside from fresh produce, go through the same manufacturing steps as other products.

As a consumer, you should not see this as a negative. Inspection systems greatly improve food quality and safety without taking away from the food’s organic nature.

Food Safety Benefits

Food safety not only protects you and your family from hazards but also impacts the entire U.S. food supply chain and the health of the general public. X-ray inspection systems are critical to implementing food safety on a systemic level. The benefits of prioritizing food safety include the following:

  • Reduced healthcare costs: Each year, millions suffer and thousands die from foodborne illnesses, according to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. If you come down with a foodborne illness, you may face hospital costs, income losses, medication expenses, and more. Food safety reduces this burden.
  • Improved productivity: Food safety technology, like x-ray machines, helps manufacturers implement more efficient production systems.
  • Reduced burdens on the healthcare system: Reducing the number of foodborne illness cases can free up the healthcare system, allowing more space for other patients in need.
  • Economic confidence: Food safety can reduce recalls and improve productivity, ultimately lowering food costs. Reduced costs improve the consumer’s ability to purchase the food items they need.

Considering Health Risks and Safety Measures

dairy products and fruits with stethoscope on table

How x-rays affect food can seem confusing at first, as the word “radiation” may sound alarming. At the end of the day, x-ray technology is far more beneficial for food safety measures and risk aversion than it is harmful. X-ray systems use such a small amount of radiation that the consumer does not experience any harm.

In airport scenarios, x-ray technology guarantees safety by ensuring the TSA can locate and remove harmful substances or weapons before it’s too late. Whether you want to bring your favorite snacks aboard your next flight or you’re simply thinking about how the items at your grocery store get packaged, you can now rest easy knowing you’re safe.

Reaping the Potential Food Safety Advantages

Is it safe to pass food through an x-ray machine? Yes, food safety offers numerous advantages for the consumer, the manufacturing facility, healthcare organizations, and public health as a whole. If you’re interested in implementing a new inspection system at your food manufacturing or production facility, you’ve come to the right place.

At TDI Packsys, we offer industry-leading x-ray inspection technology for varying applications, sizes, and needs. Call TDI Packsys today at (877) 834-6750 to learn more about our x-ray inspection systems.

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