This chlorine chicken thing is going too far. Politicians and self-appointed consumer protection groups in Europe (especially Germany) are threatening to kill the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) before it can get started. And some fear the spat over poultry could expand to beef and other food products that also use chlorine washes to kill off micro-organisms in the stuff we eat. The idea, probably an urban myth, is that the chlorine in the disinfectant wash stays on the meat and becomes a danger to human health.
Troglodytes on both sides of the Atlantic may have missed the discovery of harmful bacteria and micro-organisms a few decades back. Food safety authorities, however, tend to keep up with such weird science – as do food processors scared of liability suits. Scientists figured out that chlorine rinses would kill most of the bad stuff on the chicken, carrots, beef or whatever. They also figured out that after the chlorine rinse, it was a good idea to wash the chicken again with plain water. This cuts any chlorine residues to near zero and stops your food from smelling like a public swimming pool in July. But don’t take my word for it. I’m no scientist. Take the word of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
EFSA has only been around for a dozen years, so you may not be familiar with it. It is the official European Union body that conducts risk assessment in the food chain. Here’s what EFSA says it does:
As the risk assessor, EFSA produces scientific opinions and advice to provide a sound foundation for European policies and legislation and to support the European Commission, European Parliament and EU Member States in taking effective and timely risk management decisions.
EFSA’s remit covers food and feed safety, nutrition, animal health and welfare, plant protection and plant health. In carrying out its work, EFSA also considers the possible impact of the food chain on the biodiversity of plant and animal habitats. The Authority performs environmental risk assessments of genetically modified crops, pesticides, feed additives, and plant pests. In all these fields, EFSA’s most critical commitment is to provide objective and independent science-based advice and clear communication grounded in the most up-to-date scientific information and knowledge.
EFSA’s independent scientific advice underpins the European food safety system. Thanks to this system, European consumers are among the best protected and best informed in the world as regards risks in the food chain.
One would think that EU consumers and politicians might pay attention to EFSA’s findings, but no. (Not unlike certain U.S. and Australian politicians when it comes to climate science.) They have managed to ignore a 2005 EFSA study, done at the request of the EU Commission, that looked at the “Treatment of poultry carcasses with chlorine dioxide, acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate and peroxyacids“. No, I don’t know what all these are either. It has been a long time since high school chemistry. And it is the conclusions of Europe’s food science experts that interest me. Here we go, point by point (the bolding is mine):
Trisodium phosphate: On the basis of the available data, the Panel considers that treatment of poultry carcasses with trisodium phosphate as described is of no safety concern. …
Acidified sodium chlorite: On the basis of available data, the Panel considers that treatment of poultry carcasses with acidified sodium chlorite as described is of no safety concern. No chlorinated organics have been found upon treatment of poultry carcasses with acidified chlorite. Furthermore, potential semicarbazide levels from this treatment were below the limit of quantification of the analytical method (≤ 1 µg/kg) and would therefore be of no safety concern.
Chlorine dioxide: In contrast to the situation with acidified sodium chlorite, no specific data on chlorine dioxide by-products formation from poultry proteins or lipids were available to the Panel. Nevertheless, the Panel notes that chlorine dioxide is a less aggressive oxidant than acidified sodium chlorite and that it is used in lower concentration. Therefore, the Panel assumes chlorine dioxide will not significantly affect poultry lipids. … The Panel considers that the available data on the treatment of poultry carcasses with chlorine dioxide does not indicate a safety concern. …
Peroxyacids: On the basis of available data, the Panel considers that treatment of poultry carcasses with peroxyacids as described is of no safety concern. No detectable effects on the oxidation status of fatty acids or fatty acid profiles in poultry carcasses were reported following treatment with peroxyacids.
There you have it, folks. Europe’s own experts say that chlorine washing for poultry is of “no safety concern“. Let’s see if the birthplace of modern science will pay attention to its scientists. Not likely.