In January, Russia began blocking imports of U.S. poultry because of concerns about chlorine rinses, which are routinely used by poultry processors in the United States to kill pathogens that can cause food poisoning among consumers.
According to a Russian consumer rights group, 80 percent of poultry meat in Moscow is contaminated with salmonella bacteria. The discovery was made when the group conducted tests on chicken meat sold at a large supermarket chain across the capital. Independent laboratory analysis showed eight chickens out of 10 had bacteria living on their skin, and one sample also had bacteria deep inside the muscles, which means that the bird must have been very ill when it was killed. These disturbing findings are directly linked to the inadequate disinfecting procedures at Russian poultry factories following the ban on the use of chlorine in the disinfection process.
Although chlorine is a safe and effective disinfectant for use in the poultry industry, Russia reduced the allowable limit on imported poultry from 200 to 50 milligrams per kilogram, essentially banning imports of chicken meat from the U.S., where chlorine is the primary disinfectant.
Chlorine has been used safely and effectively in the poultry industry for more than 25 years to quickly kill microorganisms on food surfaces and prevent cross-contamination. The U.S. poultry industry was concerned that the elimination of chlorine washes would put Russian citizens at a higher risk of contracting foodborne illnesses caused by E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and other pathogens.
Read more about the important role chlorine plays in safe food handling and preparation – from farm to table – on our website.
(Joan Rose, PhD, is the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council.)