Are there sanitizers I can use as an alternative to chlorine in an organically certified poultry processing facility?

N.S. PennsylvaniaAnswer: According to the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) June 2004 OMRI Generic Materials List:

Processing sanitizers and cleaners are used to remove dirt, filth, and foreign matter from food and food handling operations. These materials are also used to control microorganisms that may contaminate food. Use of processing sanitizers and cleanser must meet the NOP Rule Section 205.270 organic handling practice standards and comply with all applicable health and food safety laws.

The OMRI Generic Materials List states that the following processing sanitizers and cleaners are allowed (A) or restricted (R) in their use. If restricted, they may be “used following restrictions set out in Section 205.605 and provided that they do not contact food or food ingredients. If used on food contact surfaces, an intervening event such as hot water rinse or purge must occur.”Steam and hot water sanitizing is allowed. However, steam is expensive, and hot water sanitizing may not be suitable for all processes.Chemical sanitizers are most widely used. It is very important to rinse thoroughly after sanitizing to remove any chemical sanitizer residues before any food is processed. One or two extra hot water rinses are recommended for organic processing runs.Acetic acid (vinegar) (R) is allowed as long as it doesn’t come in contact with food or ingredients. If it is to be used on food contact surfaces, the surfaces must be rinsed with hot water.Ethyl and isopropyl alcohol (R) are allowed as long as they don’t come in contact with food or ingredients. If it is to be used on food contact surfaces, the surfaces must be rinsed with hot water.Chlorine (including calcium hypochlorite, sodium hypochlorite, and chlorine dioxide) (R) is also allowed in organic processing for food contact surfaces. However, the rules for its use restrict the residual chlorine levels in the discharged water to the maximum residual disinfectant limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Currently that is 4 mg residue per liter of discharge. Levels of chlorine used to prepare water to be used to disinfect sanitize tools, equipment, product or food contact surfaces may be higher than 4 mg/L and should be at levels sufficient to control microbial contaminants. Therefore, chlorine use at the beginning of the applicable water cycle in an organic operation is not limited to 4 mg/L. The final rinse water for food contact surfaces must be less than 4 mg/L.Citrus products (including limonene) (R) are allowed as long as they don’t come in contact with food or ingredients. If it is to be used on food contact surfaces, the surfaces must be rinsed with hot water.Hydrogen peroxide (A) is allowed. However, hydrogen peroxide should not be used in the chicken chill water, because it might cause bloated skin on the birds.Phosphoric acid (R) is allowed for cleaning of food contact surfaces and equipment only. The surfaces must be rinsed with hot water.Potassium phosphate (tribasic) (R) is allowed for use as an equipment cleaner, as long as it doesn’t come in contact with food or ingredients. If it is to be used on food contact surfaces, the surfaces must be rinsed with hot water. Soap (R) is allowed as long as it doesn’t come in contact with food or ingredients. If it is to be used on food contact surfaces, the surfaces must be rinsed with hot water.Sulfuric acid (R) is allowed as long as it doesn’t come in contact with food or ingredients. If it is to be used on food contact surfaces, the surfaces must be rinsed with hot water.In organic processing, no “quats” (quaternary-ammonium based sanitizers) are allowed, because quats leave a residue that doesn’t rinse off well.Ozonated water is being used in the chill tank for killing microbes in an organic poultry processing facility in Michigan. See the link below for a project fact sheet discussing using ozone as an effective anti-microbial sanitizer in poultry.Also see the information about the product Citrofresh™. The company claims it is “the world’s only 100% organic anti-bacterial.”It is important that you discuss your sanitizing plan and ingredients with your certifier before using. It is also important to include them in your organic plan. ResourcesAmon, Richardo. 2004. Recycling chiller bath rinse water in poultry processing. PIER Project Fact Sheet. California Energy Commission. 2 p. www.energy.ca.gov/process/pubs/RECYCLING_POULTRY_PROCESS.PDF (PDF154 kb) Anon. 2005. Citrofresh™. 4 p.www.citrofresh.com