Chemical decontamination of poultry: time for a think?

As Brexit looms, thoughts are turning to what it might mean for food safety in the UK. The ‘poster boy’ for this issue seems to be the vexed question as to whether poultry should be permitted to be ‘washed in chlorine’ to improve microbiological food safety. Andrew Hudson, of Jorvik Food and Environmental Microbiology, considers the pros and cons of chlorine-washed chicken.


POSTER BOY: Chlorinated chicken has come up repeatedly in food standards stories since Brexit

Washing chicken in chlorine is one of a small number of interventions that the Americans use in their industry, but it and the other interventions are not permitted in the EU. So, is this approach to food safety control a viable option for the UK post-Brexit once we have ‘taken back control’? After all, chlorine-based chemicals have been used to treat drinking water to the immense benefit of public health for many years and they are also used in the disinfection of fruits and vegetables.

Most opinion regarding the suggestion seems to be negative, with many claiming that chlorine washes (taken to be representative of the possible interventions) are used for the sole purpose of camouflaging poor practice at steps in the food chain before the wash. Dangers are identified to both the consumer and process workers – and these dangers are potentially real. Such hazards include the formation of by-products such as semicarbazide, which is a carcinogen, and exposure of meat processing workers to peracetic acid (one of the other disinfectants). The arguments can be read in detail in a short paper published by the Food Research Consortium.1

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