NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — When it comes to chicken, Michelle Guidi prefers hormone-free, antibiotic-free, organically raised birds.

“I’m feeding my children and my husband,” she told CBS2’s Elise Finch. “This is my family, so I want to feed them the healthiest options out there.”

But did she check to ensure the chicken was chlorine free?

“No, I didn’t,” she said.

Most U.S. poultry plants plunge freshly slaughtered birds into chilling baths.

“We need to quickly get that temperature down right away,” explained Tom Super of the National Chicken Council.

The baths often contain antimicrobial chemicals that can include chlorine.

“Heavily diluted in water in order to kill pathogens that might be present, like salmonella,” Super said.

A tiny amount gets absorbed into the meat.

“Yes, I use bleach to clean my whites,” Guidi said. “My children swim in chlorine. But ingesting it and eating it? I feel a little bit apprehensive.”

Federal regulators say the use of chlorine is safe and effective in poultry processing, explaining that studies show that once chlorine hits the bird, it breaks down into safe byproducts.

But most European officials disagree.

A French political ad shows people wearing chicken costumes, representing American poultry, bathing in swimming pool water.

The fear is that chlorine causes cancer.

“They operate on what’s called the precautionary principle,” said Tony Corbo, a lobbyist at the nonprofit public interest organization Food & Water Watch. “Since there is controversy about using chlorine and other chemicals in poultry processing, they have decided to keep our poultry out.”

The countries in the European Union have banned U.S. chicken for nearly two decades, costing American poultry farmers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

“Unfortunately, this is a matter that political science has trumped sound science,” Super said.

Now people are gravitating toward a different approach, the one used in Europe and at a few American plants, where freshly slaughtered birds are blasted with very cold air for several hours to lower their body temperature and kill harmful pathogens.

The “air-chilled” chicken costs about $2 more per pound, but fans of the approach say it’s worth it.

“If it’s the right choice for my family health-wise, I’d be willing to pay more money for it,” Guidi said.

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