August 08, 2012

Minerals in water could interfere with poultry sanitization

Photo from USDA-ARS

By Sandra Avant / USDA-ARS

Dissolved minerals in poultry processing rinse water can interfere with antimicrobial chemicals in the water, according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists who are studying this problem.

The dissolved minerals reduce the amount of antimicrobial chemicals available for sanitization, an interaction that could reduce poultry product quality and safety, reports ARS chemist Ronald Holser. He examined how calcium and magnesium interact with a chemical sanitizer that poultry processors often add to poultry processing water.

Poultry processing facilities use large quantities of water to clean poultry before it’s sold to consumers. For example, chicken carcasses are immersed in chilled water to reduce their temperature and thereby inhibit bacterial growth. The direct contact between process water and carcasses poses the risk of cross-contamination due to bacteria from one carcass spreading to other carcasses via the chiller water.

Investigators have reported that process water containing 200 parts per million total calcium and magnesium ions was less effective in removing bacteria from poultry skin. Holser investigated the implications of this phenomenon for poultry-washing operations.

Specifically, he examined the influence of calcium and magnesium ions on the solubility of trisodium phosphate, which processors add to the water as a sanitizer to reduce microbial activity. The results demonstrated that an interaction between these minerals and the sanitizer forms salt-like solids that, in turn, reduce the efficiency of the sanitizer. The solids are no longer soluble, and aren’t available in the water to act as cleansers.

The findings will be helpful to processors developing an integrated water management strategy. By increasing the concentration of antimicrobial sanitizers, poultry processors may compensate for the loss of efficacy due to the interaction with the calcium and magnesium ions.

Holser works in the ARS Quality and Safety Assessment Research Unit at Athens, Ga. ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and this research supports the USDA priority of ensuring food safety.

More findings are reported in the study, “Water Chemistry and Antimicrobial Treatment in Poultry Processing,” published in Internet Journal of Food Safety, Vol.13, 2011, p.339-341.

SCIENTIFIC CONTACT:  Ronald Holser, ARS Quality and Safety Assessment Research Unit, Athens, Ga., (706) 546-3520,


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