Why poultry companies dip chicken in chlorine?

Elemental chlorine and chlorine compounds are used for bleaching and disinfectants. They are used in swimming pools and bathrooms to kill bacteria. Their most important use is as bleach in the manufacture of paper and cloth, but they are also used to make pesticides, rubber, and solvents. At high concentrations they are extremely dangerous for all living organisms, and were used in World War I as the first gaseous chemical warfare agents. Chlorine gas can be recognized by its pungent, irritating odour. If chlorine liquid is released into water, people may get sick by touching or drinking it. If chlorine liquid comes into contact with food, people may sicken from eating it. The extent of poisoning caused by chlorine depends on the amount of chlorine a person is exposed to.

During or immediately after exposure to dangerous concentrations of chlorine, the following signs and symptoms may develop: blurred vision, burning pain, redness, and blisters on the skin if exposed to gas. Skin injuries similar to frostbite can occur if exposed to liquid chlorine. Burning sensation is experienced in the nose, throat, and eyes, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, watery eyes, wheezing. Long-term complications may occur after breathing in high concentrations of chlorine, like fluid in the lungs.

Most home pools don’t use chlorine. Municipal pools use it but it is generally regarded as bad for the health and it is mandatory to bathe after the swim.

Have you ever swum in a heavily chlorinated pool? It’s a horrid smell and you feel as if you need to have a shower immediately after the swim. Imagine that sensation not on your skin, but in your mouth.

That’s essentially what happens today when people eat chickens from most poultry factory farms. To kill faecal contamination on chicken carcasses, factories drench them in chlorine. Those poultries who don’t use chlorine use peroxyacetic acid a mixture of the peroxy compound, hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid on poultry carcasses; which is equally disgusting. It is a practice so unappetizing, that Russia and the European Union have restricted American poultry imports over it. In fact, The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal between Europe and America was held up because of the chlorinated chicken issue. Consumer research in European countries showed that the majority of consumers had no appetite for chicken washed in toilet bleach.

But why are poultry companies dipping chicken in chlorine?  You need to understand how bad the faecal contamination is. A 2014 Consumer Reports exposé revealed that 97 percent of chicken breasts in the United States harbour dangerous pathogens like Salmonella, compylobacter and E Coli which are transmitted via faeces (and clearly not fully eliminated by chlorine). If this is the problem in America, which has rules and inspectors, what could it be in India where we clearly have no protection for the consumer and where meat companies are kings?

Why is there so much faeces in factory farms that it gets into the stripped carcasses of the chicken? Most producers confine thousands of chickens inside huge, dank warehouses, in which the animals do nothing but eat and sit down in their own faeces. Chickens who, in nature, run around a lot, are genetically manipulated to grow so obese, so fast, that many can’t take more than a few pitiful steps before collapsing under the enormous weight of their oversized breasts. So they sit in their own manure and everyone else’s faeces day after day. Go look at the cleanliness levels in any poultry farm. Unless the owner is selling the manure for fertilizer, the tendency is to just leave it there for weeks on end. New flocks brought in simply defecate on the faeces of older flocks that have been killed.

How does a chicken get killed in poultry companies? It is hung upside down while live on a moving line. Abroad it is stunned, but this is such an imprecise process that millions of birds are inadequately stunned. Those animals end up in “defeathering tanks,” essentially vats of scalding-hot water, while fully conscious. Obviously when a being is dying – whether human or chicken, its anus and sphincter open and urine and faeces come out into the water. It’s the same water that countless other birds will then be put through, spreading faeces from bird to bird. We have the same process without the stunning.

Since the faeces and urine now cover each bird carcass it is then dipped into chlorine to disinfect it. This is also so inadequate that the faeces still remains on the bird and all its bacteria spreads. So, you are eating chemical, faeces and bacteria. The same chemical you use to clean your toilet. Workers in the plants have reported health problems from the chemical washes, including asthma and other respiratory problems.

According to studies done on this process, it takes between 5 minutes to 15 minutes of chlorine contact at 25 degrees C to kill most of Compylobacter jejuni bacteria. However, the same study says that “Under conditions of commercial processing, not all studies involving chlorine have shown a reduction in carcass contamination. Mead and others (1975) showed that neither the levels of contamination of bacteria nor the occurrence of cross-contamination were reduced by spray-washing in chlorinated water after evisceration. Sanders and Blackshear (1971) showed little effect of chlorine in the final carcass wash unless at least 40 mg/L were used. Washing carcasses post-chilled with water containing 50 mg/L of chlorine did not reduce the proportion of Salmonella positive samples (Kotula and others 1967). These studies emphasized the importance of adequate contact time, which is not usually achieved in a washing operation.” This means you get the chlorine and the bacteria.

However “A study by Waldroup and others (1993) examined the modification of broiler processing procedures to include 20 ppm of chlorine through the processing line and include 1 to 5 ppm of free chlorine in the chill tank overflow. These concentrations resulted in a reduction in aerobes, coliforms and E. coli.” How much remains in the carcass that you eat is unknown.

In Australia some poultry processors are changing from using chlorination to chlorine dioxide. Chlorine dioxide is a more powerful sterilising agent than chlorine and is usually used for removing slime that builds up on the insides of water pipes and equipment.

Does India use chlorine or chlorine dioxide? Advertisements for chlorine dioxide say that liquid chlorine dioxide is used “as disinfectant and sanitizer for stopping the growth of bacteria, viruses, moulds, fungi, algae and cyst. Widely supplied for use in fisheries, poultry, dairy farming”. Chlorine dioxide tends to result in a slightly lighter skin colour (Thiessen and others 1984).

Of course you do not have to eat chicken from a factory. You can take a chicken from the thousands of khokhas on the road, illegal ramshackle temporary sheds that keep their chickens in a three tier cage on the side of the road. Those chickens hunker down the entire day, defecating and urinating on each other.  All of them already have their legs and wings broken so gangrene has set in and they are in so much pain that their adrenaline and acidity levels are skyrocketing. They are killed in the open in a fly covered place, surrounded by old blood and with a rusted knife. The feathers are pulled off in front of you and the carcass is handed over for you to wash and eat. Unless you want to use chlorine dioxide yourself, you now have a ticking time bomb of faeces, bacteria and disease on your plate.

Instead of preventing chickens from getting infected with pathogens during all stages of rearing and slaughter, the poultry industry has resorted to chemicals to eliminate bacteria at the end of the meat production chain. In other words, chemical washes aim to make up for inadequate hygiene on farms and abattoirs. Whether these washes kill the consumer is irrelevant.

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