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How to know if there's chlorine on your chicken

August 4, 2023

You may already be privy to the fact that it is standard procedure for chickens to take a chlorine bath when being processed.

97% of chickens processed in USDA facilities are bathed in chlorine - even certified organic farms and their processors do it.

You see, after a chicken is defeathered, it is always and immediately put into an ice bath. This is important. It cools down the chicken immediately and reduces the risk of the chicken spoiling.

However, when you’re processing a lot of chickens, they all take this bath together. So, if there is one chicken that has, let’s say, a high amount of salmonella, it could spread the bacteria to all the chickens in the bath.

This is why the USDA demands that meat processors use an additional layer of sanitation. The most popular and widely used method is adding chlorine to the ice bath. According to the USDA, chlorine bathed chickens are completely safe for consumption.

However, if you’re reading this blog post, you likely want to avoid anything synthetic, especially in your food. And, you’re not alone. The EU has banned chlorine-washed chickens in European countries for concerns over safety and effectiveness.

How can you know if there’s chlorine on or in your chicken? You can’t! It’s undetectable to the human senses for 99.9% of people.

It’s not required to disclose sanitation ingredients like chlorine, soap, etc on packaging. Given the statistics, it’s pretty safe to assume that, if you purchase chicken in a store in the US, it has chlorine on or in it.

The only way to 100% know if there’s chlorine in your chicken is to know your farmer.

Our farmer is meticulous about his all-natural farming and processing practices. That’s why he's always used a processor that does NOT use chlorine to wash meat. 

Originally, he found a wonderful processor that uses a more natural alternative to chlorine - Birko’s Chicxide, a blend of lactic and citric acids. I spoke with a very helpful Birko employee. He gave me some additional information not provided on the product’s technical sheet. Chicxide is made in an industrial facility by the process of fermentation, which I think is pretty neat. The lactic acid is produced by fermenting corn, and the citric acid is produced by fermenting a mixture of cassava and corn.

Now, citric and lactic acids are certainly better than chlorine, but it's likely made from GMO corn and soy. Ahem, more synthetic chemicals. And, it's also a lab-produced ingredient, which is kind of the opposite of "natural". So, we searched for something better.

In 2023, we're happy to report that we switched to a processor that uses NOTHING to wash our chicken. How do they do this? It's air chilled. With air chilling, no ice bath is needed. The birds pass through several chambers where cold, purified air is used to cool the meat. And, that's it. No chemicals AND no worry of contamination.

The farmer is happy to be able to take this extra step for your safety, both limiting your exposure to toxins as well as potentially detrimental bacteria such as salmonella.

How is the air chilled process better than water chilled?

The process of washing chickens in a chemical-laden bath of water results in chicken that has absorbed chemicals, added water weight, and less flavor. In addition, any bacterial microbes found on one chicken is now shared with an entire batch of chickens, creating greater health risks for the consumer. Water pockets can form, impacting the accuracy of cut sizes. This leads customers to pay for more than what they're getting in return. 

Customers deserve better than that! Here are some benefits of air chilled chicken:

  • Air chilling allows for healthier and safer chicken by eliminating the risk of shared bacteria. 
  • When a product is air chilled, there is no added water weight, so you are getting exactly what you paid for. 
  • No added chemicals or water are used during the air chilling process, therefore a full and robust flavor is found when our chicken is served.
  • Have you ever tried to fry or roast a piece of chicken after it's spent hours submerged? It can be a challenge to get it nice and crispy while also being perfectly cooked. This is not the case with air chilled chicken! Thanks to the time they spend in the chiller, our birds slowly lose water rather than absorbing excess. Less water means quicker browning at a perfect temp - every cook's best friend.
  • Since the birds haven't already absorbed a ton of water, they take seasoning and marinade much better
  • Since the surface isn't as wet as water processed, breading adheres better more completely and stays on while sautéing and frying.

Now isn't that nice? Not only are there less chemicals, but it's also a fairer way to sell chicken AND the chicken is nicer to cook with and more delicious. Win win win!

*Originally published on May 3, 2019. Updated on August 4, 2023.

Marie Reedell