WASHINGTON – Earlier this month in response to a Washington Post article, which has since led to a number of recent pick-up articles in some of the nation’s newspapers that are leveling concerns about the poultry industry’s use of antimicrobials used as processing aids and their impact on fighting pathogens, Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the National Chicken Council, reminded the media and consumers that food safety is industry’s top priority. She added that the poultry industry relies on the latest and best science to continuously improve its products and it constantly strives to decrease the risk of potential foodborne pathogens.

Some media reports questioned if chemicals commonly used in US poultry plants are masking Salmonella. “We are at war with Salmonella and Campylobacter, and we use every approved tool at our disposal to kill bacteria on chicken products to reduce the risk of foodborne illness,” Peterson responded. “Our customers and consumers expect nothing less.”

Some of these tools include antimicrobials used as processing aids that are applied to poultry carcasses to kill foodborne pathogens. Two common processing aids cited by the Washington Post are cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) and peracetic acid (PAA). Peterson explains that CPC is an antiseptic that kills bacteria and other microorganisms. It is commonly found in toothpaste, mouthwash and nasal sprays. Peracetic acid (PAA) is an organic compound, consisting of basically vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. PAA is applied to poultry carcasses at concentrations that are less acidic and more dilute than products commonly found in kitchen cabinets and refrigerators. Within the water at poultry-processing plants, poultry is treated at concentrations that are less acidic than lemon juice and more dilute than household vinegar.

“The bottom line for consumers is that these processing aids are diluted significantly, break down in water to non-harmful substances and are often rinsed-off after their application,” Peterson said. “They have no impact on public health other than to make chicken products safer.”

Peterson refuted some of the claims made in the article regarding the “neutralization” of certain processing aids by noting that companies manufacturing these processing aids conduct extensive research and must document their safety and effectiveness before any product is approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture; she said this evaluation is frequently repeated by others in the industry.

“USDA-approved processing aids, by definition, have no lasting effect after application,” Peterson continued. “As such, we are confident that testing results are indicative of effective chemistry.”