Radioactivity in food

The ifp institute for product quality offers the examination of food for radioactivity. The determination of radioactivity in food is performed gamma-spectroscopically using a coaxial germanium detector, which is cooled with liquid nitrogen to avoid thermally induced noise signals. We analyse the gamma spectrum routinely.  for the isotopes relevant in food. These are primarily:

  • 131I (iodine-131)
  • 134Cs (caesium-134)
  • 137Cs (caesium-137)

Their activity is recorded in Bq/kg. The detection limit varies depending on the duration of the analysis and the isotope, but is far below the legally defined maximum limit. Further information on radioactivity can be found here:


As a result of the Chernobyl reactor catastrophe in 1986, the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) adopted legal regulations at European level for food and feed to protect the population from contaminated food and feed.

Regulation (EURATOM) No 3954/87 established maximum permitted levels of radiation in foodstuffs and feedingstuffs in the event of a nuclear accident or any other case of radiological emergency.

Foodstuffs of minor importance were additionally defined in Regulation (EURATOM) No 944/89 and corresponding maximum permitted levels were established. Maximum permitted levels for feedingstuffs were additionally set in Regulation (EURATOM) No 770/90.

In addition, Regulation (EC) No 733/2008 on the conditions for the importation of agricultural products originating in third countries following the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant also regulated specific maximum levels for goods from the areas contaminated by the nuclear disaster.


In response to the serious reactor accident that occurred in Fukushima, Japan, in March 2011, Regulation (EU) No 297/2011 was issued. According to this emergency regulation, food and feed imports from the affected Japanese prefectures were initially subject to the maximum levels of iodine-131, caesium-134 and caesium-137 established in Regulations No 3954/87, 944/89 and 770/90, and shortly thereafter, this regulation was amended by Regulation (EU) No 351/2011, in Annex II of which new maximum levels were established in accordance with the levels in Japan.


In January 2016 a new Euratom Regulation laying down maximum permitted levels of radioactive contamination of foodstuffs and of feedingstuffs which may be contaminated with radioactive substances following a nuclear accident or any other case of radiological emergency was adopted (Regulation (Euratom) 2016/52). This applied from February 2016.

This regulation authorizes the Commission to set binding maximum permitted levels in a regulation at short notice following a radiological emergency. This makes it possible to adapt the maximum permitted levels for radioactivity in food and feed quickly and flexibly to the circumstances of the respective emergency. However, these may not exceed the maximum levels established in the annexes to the regulation.

The possibility of setting lower permitted levels is intended to optimise radiation protection and keep the radioactive exposure of the population as low as reasonably achievable in an emergency.

Regulation (Euratom) 2016/52 thus enables effective protection of the European population from radioactively contaminated food and also limits the use of contaminated feed for this purpose. It replaces the previously valid Euratom Regulations No. 3954/87, No. 944/89 and No. 770/90.