Many of us are currently involved in the extraordinary television series Chernobyl, starring the unsurpassed Jared Harris. So it’s not trivial to wonder what food would become more radioactive as a result of an exposure to radioactivity?
The easiest way to find out is to explore some studies conducted in the “City of Survival,” a fictitious city built in the desert of Nevada, United States, where hundreds of atomic bombs were detonated.
Beware of cod
Project 32.5, a fifteen-page report published in 1956, was intended to test the resistance of frozen foods to a nuclear explosion. To carry out the study, they covered themselves with ice and buried themselves in shallow trenches, 387 and 838 metres, respectively, from the place where a 29-kilometre bomb was to detonate, as well as storing other supplies in freezers in the houses of the city of survival, 1.4 kilometres from ground zero.
29 kilotons, to give you an idea, is twice the power of Hiroshima. So it was more than enough to cover it all with radioactivity. But not all food absorbed it equally, after waiting two and a half days before digging up the food, as Pierre Barthélémy explains in his book Experiments of Improbable Science:
Cod loins turned out to be the most radioactive, ahead of peas. Strawberries had no anomaly. (…) An analysis showed that the nutritional properties had not been reduced, except for a decrease in the vitamin B9 levels of frozen French fries. A team of volunteers also ensured that there were no noticeable differences in taste, texture and appearance from the control foods.
What about food in freezers? There was no sign of radioactivity. However, the report warns that the consumption of food exposed to radiation “should be vitalized as much as possible during the first two weeks, except in case of urgent need.