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The Use of Chlorine-based Sanitizers in Food Processing Facilities
By Dave McLaren

Food Processing Center, University of Nebraska

The Food Processing Center at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln recently released a report on the use of chlorine-based sanitizers and disinfectants in the food manufacturing industry. The study examined the various applications of chlorine-based sanitizers as well as emerging technologies to promote waste minimization.

The researchers found that chlorine and chlorine-based products are widely used in the food processing industry because of their low cost and effectiveness in microbial reduction. However,

Though chlorine in food processing is of infinite value, the study also stressed the importance of the responsible stewardship of these products, concluding that manufacturers should apply technologies to minimize chlorine waste in food production while still producing foods that are safe from microbial contamination.

Following is a brief overview of the approaches taken by different industry sectors to increase food safety through chlorine-based sanitization.

Dairy processing

The dairy industry was the first food sector to use chlorine for germicidal purposes. According to Leslie D. Vavak of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, such usage was later codified in the U.S. Milk Ordinance and Code of 1939 that recommended chlorine for use treatment of milk equipment. Chlorine is primarily used for the purification of potable water used in dairy processes and for disinfection of equipment, pipelines, utensils, surfaces and hands.

Meat and poultry processing

Chlorine is generally used as a bactericidal agent in meat and poultry processing facilities. However, it is also used to clean and bleach stains on equipment and surfaces.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires poultry to be immersed in water containing 20 parts per million (ppm) available chlorine. It also stipulates that equipment in meat and poultry slaughter facilities must be sanitized in a fresh solution of 5,000 ppm available chlorine.

Egg processing facilities

A survey of egg processing facility managers found that chlorine is the most commonly used sanitizer because it is inexpensive compared to other compounds and is highly effective in removing protein and carbohydrate residues from surfaces. Chlorine can be used at almost every stage of egg processing, from the washing of eggs and equipment, to the sanitization of egg trays used for shipping and hand wash stations.

Fish and seafood processing

Fish and shellfish products have the highest outbreak rates of reported foodborne illness of any food group in the U.S. Chlorine is most often used in fish and seafood processing because it is inexpensive, has fast germicidal action at relatively low concentrations, is easy to use, does not produce a film and is available in multiple forms. However, it is less effective on surfaces with high organic loads and may cause skin irritation.

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Chlorine gas, calcium hypochlorite and sodium hypochlorite are widely used in fresh fruit and vegetable production applications. Seeds are often soaked in chlorinated water to reduce the potential for viral, bacterial and fungal disease epidemics. Irrigation water is treated with chlorine to control plant pathogens such as Phytophthora cinnamomi and P. capsisci in addition to preventing bacterial slime and biofilm accumulation.

Reducing foodborne illness

As the Food Processing Center’s examination of the use of chlorine-based disinfectants in food processing suggests, processing facilities recognize the importance of proper sanitization of equipment and even foodstuffs in order to ensure the safety of the food supply. The industry’s multibarrier approach to protection, including the use of disinfectants such as chlorine-based products, significantly reduces incidents of foodborne illness.

The report may be ordered from the University of Nebraska by contacting Dan Moser at or 103 Agriculture Communications Building, Lincoln, NE 68583-0918.

To find out more about the Food Processing Center at the University of Nebraska, visit their website at

For a description of the USDA’s food safety programs, go to


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