Chlorine Washing of Food Doesn’t Remove Contaminants, Study Finds, Igniting Safety Concerns in American Poultry Exported Abroad

Another reason to eat less or no meat — chlorine-washed food can actually cross-contaminate a kitchen.

The chlorine washing of food, the controversial “cleaning” technique used by many US poultry producers who want access to the British market post-Brexit, does not remove contaminants, a new study has found.

The investigation, by a team of microbiologists from Southampton University and published in the US journal mBio, found that bacilli such as listeria and salmonella remain completely active after chlorine washing. The process merely makes it impossible to culture them in the lab, giving the false impression that the chlorine washing has been effective.

Apart from a few voluntary codes, the American poultry industry is unregulated compared with that in the EU, allowing for flocks to be kept in far greater densities and leading to a much higher incidence of infection. While chicken farmers in the EU manage contamination through higher welfare standards, smaller flock densities and inoculation, chlorine washing is routinely used in the US right at the end of the process, after slaughter, to clean carcasses. This latest study indicates it simply doesn’t work.

Currently, chlorine-washed chicken is barred from entry to the EU on animal welfare grounds and has become a contentious issue for opponents of liberal trade deals with the US post-Brexit.

Previous studies with similar findings have been dismissed by the US poultry industry as producing “laboratory-only” results with no relevance to the real world. “We therefore tested the strains of listeria and salmonella that we had chlorine-washed on nematodes [roundworms], which have a relatively complex digestive system,” said Professor William Keevil, who led the university team. “All of them died. Many companies and scientists have built their reputations promoting anti-microbial products. This research questions everything they’ve done.”

The study tested contaminated spinach, but Keevil insists the findings apply equally to chicken. “This is very concerning,” he said. The issue, he argues, is less to do with the chicken itself, the contamination of which can be managed by thorough cooking. “It’s that chlorine-washed chicken, giving the impression of being safe, can then cross-contaminate the kitchen.”

Creating Medicines With Less Side Effects Through a New Chemical Dividing Process

Overall, medications today have way too many harmful side effects, and so this breakthrough technological process should be helpful in reducing them. It also has the potential to “produce better medical and agricultural products, including medicines, food ingredients, dietary supplements and pesticides.”

Chemical compounds are made up of molecules. The most important molecules in biology are chiral molecules. “Chiral,” the Greek word for “hand,” describes molecules that look almost exactly alike and contain the same number of atoms but are mirror images of one another — meaning some are “left-handed” and others are “right-handed.” This different “handedness” is crucial and yields different biological effects.

Understanding chiral differences was made painfully clear by the drug thalidomide. Marketed to pregnant women in the 1950’s and 1960’s to ease morning sickness, thalidomide worked well under a microscope. However, thalidomide is a chiral drug -its “right” chiral molecule provides nausea relief while the “left” molecule causes horrible deformities in babies. Since the drug company producing Thalidomide did not separate out the right and left molecules, Thalidomide had disastrous results for the children of women who took this medication.

Though a crucial step for drug safety, the separation of chiral molecules into their right- and left- handed components is an expensive process and demands a tailor-made approach for each type of molecule. Now, however, following a decade of collaborative research, Paltiel and Naaman have discovered a uniform, generic method that will enable pharmaceutical and chemical manufactures to easily and cheaply separate right from left chiral molecules.

Their method relies on magnets. Chiral molecules interact with a magnetic substrate and line up according to the direction of their handedness — “left” molecules interact better with one pole of the magnet, and “right” molecules with the other one. This technology will allow chemical manufacturers to keep the “good” molecules and to discard the “bad” ones that cause harmful or unwanted side effects.

“Our finding has great practical importance,” shared Prof. Naaman. “It will usher in an era of better, safer drugs, and more environmentally-friendly pesticides.”

While popular drugs, such as Ritalin and Cipramil, are sold in their chirally-pure (i.e., separated) forms, many generic medications are not. Currently only 13% of chiral drugs are separated even though the FDA recommends that all chiral drugs be separated. Further, in the field of agrochemicals, chirally-pure pesticides and fertilizers require smaller doses and cause less environmental contamination than their unseparated counterparts.

Indian Farm Chickens Dosed with the World’s Strongest Antibiotics, Worsening Antibiotic Resistance

This news is a big cause for concern due to the sheer amount of last-resort antibiotics being used on these animals. Farm antibiotic use needs to be restricted before antibiotic resistance becomes a severe problem.

Chickens raised in India for food have been dosed with some of the strongest antibiotics known to medicine, in practices that could have repercussions throughout the world.

Hundreds of tonnes of an “antibiotic of last resort” – only used in the most extreme cases of sickness – are shipped to India each year to be used, without medical supervision, on animals that may not require the drugs but are being dosed with them nevertheless to promote the growth of healthy animals.

Routine use of some of the strongest antibiotics, which doctors have said should be preserved for the most extreme cases lest resistance to them should increase and prevent their use for the diseases for which they are intended, is now a common practice in farming in the developing world. The consequences will be felt throughout the world because resistance to strong antibiotics is spread among organisms.

Germs with qualities that can make them dangerous to humans will, if untreated or poorly treated, mutate into more powerful pathogens that are resistant to treatment. Poor or inadequate public heath treatments assists this process, potentially spreading pathogens around the world.

A study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that hundreds of tonnes of colistin, described as an antibiotic of last resort, have been shipped to India for the routine treatment of animals, chiefly chickens, on farms.

The finding is concerning because the use of such powerful drugs can lead to an increasing resistance among farm animals around the world. Colistin is regarded as one of the last lines of defence against serious diseases, including pneumonia, which cannot be treated by other medicines. Without these drugs, diseases that were commonly treatable in the last century will become deadly once again.

There is nothing to prevent Indian farmers, which include some of the world’s biggest food producers, from exporting their chickens and other related products overseas. There are currently no regulations that would prevent such export to the UK on hygiene terms, except for those agreed under the EU. Any regulations to be negotiated after Brexit might not take account of these regulations.