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Jan 2, 2001 10:00 AM

Bleached Chickens

  • j

I just read that chickens are dunked in bleach before sale to kill microbes -- and that this is one of the reasons the EU won't allow US chickens to be sold there. Surely that can't be true. Can it? Does anyone here know?

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  1. Seems that would mess up the chicken industry's plan to turn the birds yellow by feeding them massive amounts of marigold-derived products. But I wouldn't put it past Purdue and Tyson.

    1. n
      no name (avoiding the name nag)

      You can read all about it at the Consumer Reports website. Don't know about the EU, I should think the chilling with chlorine is better than without. Otherwise, it would just be soaking in a blood and fecal matter bacteria bath, right?

      Birds are sprayed inside and out with chlorinated water, to reduce bacteria, and are checked for visible fecal matter. Chickens that pass muster go to the chiller; those that fail are reprocessed or discarded. Critical control point: Record chlorine level hourly; adjust if necessary.

      To prevent spoilage, birds are submerged in chlorinated, icy water, which chills them from about 100° to below 40° F. When chickens emerge, USDA inspectors grade them for quality. At this stage, the USDA tests at least one carcass per day for salmonella, and the plant conducts one E. coli test per 22,000 birds. Critical control point: Monitor and record chlorine level; check internal temperature of birds to ensure proper chilling.

      9 Replies
      1. re: no name (avoiding the name nag)

        I guess I would need to know more about the effect of chlorine on human internal organs to decide which I prefer, I guess. (Those warning labels on Clorox are not just for fun, are they?) And surely we ought to have more than just

        a) feces-stained chickens, and
        b) cloroxed chickens

        to choose from?

        1. re: John Tracey
          wendy jackson (fka wendy)

          In Europe, the preferred method of chilling the birds is not the water bath process but cold air blasted. Poultry chilled in the water bath retains some of that liquid, hence all that yucky mess that chickens from the supermarket give off. European birds are generally much "drier". I did some research on this subject for my company earlier this year, and will try to find the link for you. The air-chilled process is much more expensive, which is one reason we don't use it in this country.

          1. re: wendy jackson (fka wendy)
            wendy jackson

            John, here's a link to an interesting article on a recent study comparing the two processes.


            1. re: wendy jackson

              Thanks Wendy, I appreciate it.

              1. re: John Tracey

                On the kitchen line, we use a solution known in the field as "sanitary" water. This is two capfulls of bleach, to a quart of water. This "clean" water is used many different ways. Most importantly, it prevents cross-contamination between knives and cutting surfaces. You wouldn't want to drink it, but it wouldn't kill you.

                1. re: WB

                  Jane Brody had an article on bacteria in the Times recently (basically how most of those new anti-bacterial products do more harm than good) and she mentioned that bleach is a good anti-bacterial agent because it breaks down relatively quickly, which is why it probably isn't too much of a problem used sparingly around food.

                  While the chicken thing doesn't sound appealing, maybe it's not that different from us swimming in a chlorinated pool.

                  1. re: Lisa Z
                    Frank Language

                    While I'll allow that it's better to kill potentially dangerous germs than let them thrive, it should be noted that chlorine is a fairly hazardous substance that can mutate into dioxin - anyone remember Love Canal? Dioxin is carcinogenic.

                    I'm posting a link to Seventh Generation, which is a paper-towel company. Althogh this is a totally commercial site with a totally vested interest in giving this information, it's a pretty accurate source of information on chlorine. Guess I have another good reason to swear off chicken.



                    1. re: Frank Language

                      So I look at the site and see idiotic, self-serving misrepresentations.

                      1) "When wood pulp or recycled paper is bleached, the reactions that take place between the chlorine, the lignin, and the cellulose fibers produce the most toxic substances ever created." Yes and if chickens are ever bred to contain lignin and cellulose fiber, I'll start worring more about bleached chickens. Bleaching chickens has nothing to do with dioxins. Chlorine cannot magically mutate into dioxins.

                      2) The site goes on to say that "Chlorine is also a highly corrosive substance, capable of damaging skin, eyes, and other membranes." Oh, come on. I have literally bathed in bleach without any undue effects -- great for poison ivy. (Unless it caused me to be cranky enough to reply to this foolishness.) I wouldn't want to get it in my eyes, but then again I can think of a bunch of stuff I put in my mouth that I don't want in my eyes. To get the "highly corrosive" action that the site refers to, you need much higher concentrations than bleach, and the chickens are hit with a lower concentration than bleach, if I remember the article correctly.

                      The site is alarmist and of little merit.


                      1. re: Frank Language

                        I bet we all better start worrying about the swimming pool water we snorted as kids, or, for that matter, every shred of bleached clothing our moms ever put on us.

                        I have never heard any serious critique of chlorine bleach products from mainstream consumer advocates. When all is said and done, we are much better off healthwise when products like bleach are available and used in commercial kitchens, etc. than if they are not, because we are much more at risk from the bacterial spread the bleach is used to control.