All chicken produced in the United States is closely monitored and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Hypochlorus (i.e. chlorine) is a common disinfectant used in water treatment and food processing worldwide. It is present at safe levels in much of the drinking water in the United States.
As part of their food safety systems, some chicken companies may use chlorinated water at USDA approved levels in immersion chilling systems and rinses as an effective antimicrobial. This is based on a substantial body of scientific studies and a best practice recommendation from USDA that it be used to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria and pathogens like Salmonella.
If hypochlorus is used in immersion chilling systems, it is used in parts per million and incorporated into the several thousand gallons of water present, and is diluted significantly. Most chillers rarely exceed 3 ppm of hypochlorus when tested at the overflow. To put a part per million into perspective, it is equivalent to one inch out of 15.8 miles or one minute in almost two years.
Numerous scientific studies strongly support the use of chlorinated water in the context of a valid food safety system as the most effective means to reduce and control the level of microbiological contamination of poultry meat and poultry meat products.
One such study was completed by the University of Maryland and the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Nutrition, a leading and respected food science center in the United States. It affirmed the safety of chlorine’s use in water treatment and food processing, emphasizing the public health gains from reduced waterborne and foodborne illnesses. The full study can be read here.
FSIS personnel closely monitor poultry carcasses to ensure that zero chlorine is present after treatment. Data from a study conducted by experts at Mississippi State University indicate that there are no residues of hazardous substances in poultry meat treated with chlorine-based compounds.
The bottom line is that research has confirmed that this use of chlorinated water does not pose any human health concerns; rather its use reduces the human health threat from the finished product.