Should We Clean Our Fresh Chickens With Chlorine? Should we be washing our chickens in chlorine before they hit the oven? That might sound like a bit of a far-out idea, but it’s something that they regularly do in the US, and a little known fact… we used to do this in the UK before legislation changed.
Chlorinated chicken – or chlorine-treated chicken – refers to chicken that has been treated with antimicrobial rinses in order to remove harmful bacteria. These rinses are often referred to as Pathogen Reduction Treatments (PRTs) in the US.
After the birds are slaughtered and the carcasses eviscerated, they are examined and then undergo a
“final washing procedure”, where chemicals are applied as a spray or wash.
According to a report published in the US, (which argues in favour of allowing PRTs), “immersing poultry meat in chlorine dioxide solution of the strength used in the United States reduces prevalence of Salmonella from 14% in controls to 2%. EU chicken samples typically have 15-20% Salmonella.”
So surely treating the food with chlorine would be a good thing if it reduces the likelihood of Salmonella? Well, not necessarily. Using chlorine to remove the harmful bacteria could be an excuse to poorly store and prepare the poultry in the first processes of production, and thus using the method as a backstop procedure for poor hazard protection.
David Natolie, Technical Manager for STS Food Safety, describes the thought process behind the methods of sterilisation in the UK & US, and the benefits and difficulties of both:
“How we prepare chicken around the world is full of opposing stances usually involving self interest by producers and nations. Historically, all chicken in the UK were given a final swim in a chlorinated bath or similar. But legislative bodies decided that this was a cover for poor poultry management / disease control in flocks. As a result the industry / extra national states, decided against chlorination baths or similar in favour of better flock management to produce a bird healthy at source.
Currently birds going through the EU /UK regulated processing are welfare and health inspected prior to hanging on. They are then stunned and slaughtered followed by de-feathering using hot previously chlorinated water. Once cleaned of feathers, inspected, eviscerated, they are then subject to washing with mains chlorinated water to rinse the carcass and assist in its cooling. Birds are then air dried / cooled for either packing or further processing.
Part of this process was to engineer a Salmonella free flock including Salmonella free eggs as a bi product by vaccination. Birds going through the EU regulated processing are inspected prior to hanging, stunned and then slaughtered.”
“As a by-product of having Salmonella-free flocks and eggs, we have a rise it seems in Campylobacter – which if you think about it, Salmonella and Campylobacter once shared the body of the birds and as with any form of competition, kept numbers relatively low (possibly on both counts). But with Salmonella removed it will leave Campylobacter the dominant organism. Hence campaigns to stop consumers washing the chickens as this act spreads bacterium around the kitchen in question.
“Do we need chlorine washed chicken? Probably not, it adds costs for producers and adds pollution in the waste water. Benefits as stated with reduction in pathogens, all chlorine tends to dissipate with cooking. But, whatever the process treatment as described above all, products SHOULD be cooked to a temperature in excess of 75*C throughout.”