If you don't know, those yummy wings from your favorite sports bar have been subject to a relaxing, pathogen-killing chemical bath before they were crisped and smothered in buffalo sauce and fake blue cheese... mmmm.
What? Chlorine in my chicken?!
Yes. Chlorine in YOUR chicken. According to the National Chicken Council (yes this is a real thing) the use of chlorinated water in processing chicken is not only “safe,” but a common practice in the United States.
Chicken processing companies are allowed to use Hypochlorous acid, a weak acid produced when chlorine is dissolved in water. Poultry producers use hypochlorous acid at USDA-approved levels. Despite its use being approved by the USDA, many countries prohibit the importation of chickens.
According to a 2009 report from the LA Times, chicken can absorb up to 12% of their weight in the baths, which is then sopped up by that weird spongy thing that sits in the package underneath your raw chicken.. The more water the chickens absorb, the more chlorine their system takes in. (http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/06/food/fo-chixchallenge6)
Many countries practice the precautionary principle when it comes to food and their citizens. Meaning that while there may not be robust scientific evidence that something is bad for you, they still aren’t willing to take the chance.
But why? Why are they dipping my chicken in chlorine?!
A) Your chicken is covered in fecal matter and needs to be disinfected.
B) Illness from contaminated food is a serious concern in the US and/or foodborne illnesses are on the rise.
C) Poultry producers need to inhibit the growth and spread of salmonella, and campylobacter, and other pathogens before they can sell the meat.
D) Your chicken is sick and dirty as a result of terrible breeding, living, and production conditions.
E) All of the above.
I’ll give you a moment........ E. The answer is E.
Are there other ways to disinfect my chicken that do not involve chlorine baths?
Absolutely. There is the preferred global method that uses steamed/hot water. There is also electrolyzed water, which is when salt water is subjected to an electrical current. The combination kills bacteria and pathogens. Finally there is ozonated water. Ozone can be formed when oxygen is acted upon by ultraviolet light to break up its atoms and then reattach three oxygen atoms instead of one. All three of the aforementioned methods produce less waste and less carcinogenic by-product than chlorine.
Did I lose you? Are you still reading? Here are some pictures of chickens nesting in a parking lot outside of a Popeyes in Orlando, Florida!
Well, if chickens are covered in feces don't we need the chlorine baths?
Actually no. If chickens are raised according to organic and free range standards, they won't be covered in sores and fecal matter at processing time. This means that they won’t need such intense measures of disinfection.
The problem that the chlorinated bath seeks to remedy is a problem of the poultry industry’s own creation. A remedy that would be healthier for consumers, chickens, and the close contact poultry producers would be to improve the living conditions of the chickens.
Okay but what about salmonella, e-coli, listeria and a million other microbial things that can kill us?
Chances are, if your chickens are not free range, organic, or from a conscious farm your chicken has spent it’s whole life doped up on multiple antibiotics to treat disease... but the antibiotics are not working.
Should you be worried? Well yes and no.
Yes, you should be worried because if our food chain is full of antibiotics and the birds are still testing positive for harmful bacteria, then they are just another stone on the path to a world full of superbugs.
And no, you should not be worried about the salmonella and other bacteria found in raw chicken because almost all of the microbial threats of chicken are destroyed by heat. That means that if you wash and cook your chicken and eggs thoroughly you will not be at risk. Wash your food and wash your hands.
So what do I do if I don't want to buy/eat chlorinated chicken??
Oh em geeee, I am so glad you asked!
1. Buy organic chicken. U.S. organic chicken is not subject to chlorine baths.
2. Shop local and buy your poultry from farmers that will answer your questions about their preferred disinfection process.
3. Move to Europe where chlorine treated poultry is banned.
This was a great chat... we should do it again soon.
And most importantly... Now you know