Ever since high levels of radiation were recorded at a nuclear plant in Japan that was damaged by the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent explosions at the plant, people both inside the country and out are freaking out about radiation exposure.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the area around the plant, but now a new threat looms: Can radioactive materials contaminate Japanese food products? You bet it can.
Radioactive materials can most definitely enter the food chain through sea water and rain water and affect everything from marine life to agricultural products (not to mention contaminate the drinking water). It's a scary thought, right? However, government officials say that, at least as of Wednesday, radioactivity levels in Japan are not high enough to affect food products.
Still, several Asian governments -- including the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan -- are screening food imported from Japan for radiation as a precautionary measure. Experts believe that the foods most at-risk for radioactive contamination include:
-Cow's milk. This product can be particularly vulnerable if cows graze on grass exposed to radiation. As one expert explained:
Cows are like vacuum cleaners, picking up radioactive iodine that lands over a wide area of pasture, and then those particles very easily are concentrated and pass into the milk.
This can be particularly dangerous for children, who on average consume more cow's milk than adults.
-Seafood. Radioactive particles can get washed down by rain into the sea and contaminate marine life.
-Fresh fruits and vegetables. Particles can enter the soil through rain water and contaminate crops. Those planted close to the nuclear power plant would obviously be at the highest risk for radiation contamination.
The Japanese food situation is being monitored closely by government authorities and is nothing the people should panic about. However, it is a reminder of the need for accurate radiation measurements and risk assessments so people can be sure the food they are consuming is safe.
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