Sunday, December 10, 2023

Chlorine: to wash or not to wash

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By Katie Keiger

Poultry Times staff

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Chlorine is not just a chemical in pool water; it has many different uses including sanitizing chicken. The usage of chlorinated water to clean chicken has been approved by several government institutions around the world including the USDA and the European Food Safety Authority.

The thought of a chemical that is strong enough to keep pool water clean might be a little disturbing to people, but it is important to remember that it is the concentrations of solutions that make the difference in chemical applications. The USDA’s recommendation for chlorine cleaning solutions for chicken is 50 ounces for every 7.800 gallons of water. To put that in perspective, a person would need to consume more than 5 percent of their own body weight of chicken in one day to have any harmful effects, according to European Commission figures.

The controversy surrounding chlorinated chicken, therefore, is not the safety of the chlorinated chicken, but the concern that chicken processors might not be providing proper animal welfare practices. Due to chlorines’ efficiency killing viruses and bacteria, processors could potentially not utilize biosecurity measures and properly vaccinate birds against diseases.

The National Chicken Council argues that this is not the case, at least not in chicken produced in the U.S. The government upholds poultry meat to high standards through strict regulations. Using only one technique to sanitize food would be like using only one ingredient to make a cake; it would not work.

Another issue against chlorinated chicken is the environmental effects that the chemical’s runoff could have on water sources and the soil. However, some water treatment plants already use chlorine in their filtering processes, to provide extra benefits similar to adding fluoride to the water.

Still, U.S. poultry producers are willing and able to provide chicken that has been cleaned with alternative techniques for European countries that have banned chlorine washed chicken. However, these methods are not always as effective as chlorine water mixtures.

Alternative solutions to destroying pathogens on poultry are washing meat with chilled water that is absent of chemicals or other antimicrobial washes. These techniques often fall short when compared to chlorine solutions.

In a study conducted by the World Health Organization, more than 70 percent of salmonella remained on poultry after being washed with cold water as compared to the 58 percent contamination on chlorinated chicken.

Poultry is one of the most popular proteins consumed in the U.S. today. The National Chicken Council states that it’s vital that the meat is properly sanitized and crucial because uncleaned chicken is one of the largest sources of foodborne illnesses.

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