Chlorinated chicken fears unfounded: ex-food safety boss

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Poultry processing employs extensive use of water, from the defeathering stage through to evisceration and dressing
Poultry processing employs extensive use of water, from the defeathering stage through to evisceration and dressing
Malcolm Kane, former head of food safety, supplier selection and audit at Sainsbury’s, believes current UK concerns about chlorinated chicken from the US need a far more nuanced and informed debate than received so far.

I spent half my career in line management in food manufacturing – including chilled poultry production – and I am familiar with standards in a wide range of food production sectors, including meat and poultry products, both in the UK and in Europe.

We should welcome public scrutiny about technical standards, practices and above all, food safety, and at all times be open about specific issues that from time to time become contentious. This includes chlorinated chicken – whether home produced or imported from the US, or anywhere else.

The primary professional duties in all food animal production are that the processes employed must be humane in the first instance, and hygienic thereafter.

Salmonella cross-contamination

The primary food hygiene consideration with all poultry products is the control and elimination of salmonella cross-contamination, for the simple reason that salmonella bacteria have to be regarded as a normal but endemic gut contaminant in all poultry destined for poultry meat consumption.

Malcolm Kanecropped
Kane: ‘Good and bad standards’ in every country

Poultry processing employs extensive use of water, from the defeathering stage through to evisceration and dressing. Clean potable water is always employed for these purposes, and it is worth pointing out that in most UK processing plants, municipal water supplies may be used – which will have a residual chlorine content, in line with all domestic drinking water. Additional chlorination has generally been regarded as unnecessary in the UK.

The size and scale of the US means that proportionately more US plants will have their own private borehole fresh water supplies than will be the case in the UK and, therefore, would employ factory-added chlorination as a standard precaution.

The slightest hint of chlorine

The use of chlorine in water supplies used in food processing is not regarded as a safety problem, though some food products may be flavour sensitive to even the slightest hint of chlorine and particular precautions are employed with these. Poultry itself is very mild-flavoured, which could be a consideration if excessive chlorine was ever used during the production stages.

The food safety concern sometimes expressed with the use of chlorinated water in ‘wet’ food production, particularly of protein foods such as meats and poultry lies with the theoretical production of chloramines, but this has not been considered a major safety issue in practice.

I have witnessed both good and bad standards in food processing plants in every country I have visited. It is a trope to suggest that US food safety standards are inferior to European, or that US poultry plants require additional chlorination to offset poorer standards.

Related topics Food Safety Meat, poultry & seafood

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1 comment

No exceptions!

Posted by Rohan Perera,

Agree, the public must be given facts and details to enable an informed debate, rather than an emotive response.

There are verified stories on chlorine bleached chicken in the US as a result of hundreds of ppm chlorine in carcass washing. This is something the UK consumer must never accept.

However, if the government wants to even think of going down this route after Brexit, the first step must be to introduce tight limits into UK law. Followed by, regular auditing and approving of US poultry plants which meet the standard.

Ongoing, compliance must be proven with positive release of imports based of independent lab analysis for residual chlorine, whilst adhering to EU Salmonella test requirements/limits and being subjected to the same Port Health scrutiny for salmonella at UK ports.

Treat the US the same as we treat third countries such as Brazil and Thailand. Demand the same standards of Animal welfare (Red tractor or equivalent), higher food hygiene standards etc. No, exceptions!

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