Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Clean eating vs. chlorine- washed chicken

Different national standards mean stick to your guns



I'm so happy to see that clean eating—or eating clean, as it's also called—is a hot trend lately for "foodie" bloggers and other influencers, like the menu designers of leading-edge restos. And I don't mean the talented graphic designers who create printed menus; I mean the informed chefs and culinary experts who think about what kind of customer they want to attract, and then create the unique dining experience listed in the print menu that's ultimately delivered to your table. Oh, yes, that's all very planned.

I'm even happier to see that clean eating is on the rise just as the heat is being turned up on a full-blown food fight on the other side of The Pond.

If you haven't paid a lot of attention to the concept of "clean eating," Mayo Clinic—the wonderful, nonprofit academic medical centre in Minnesota that provides some of the most reliable health care information in the world—has a nice, compact description of it.

Really, clean eating is nothing new. It's based on the keystones of any healthy diet: Eat more real foods, like all those fruits, veggies and other whole foods on the outside aisles of your grocery store. Eat for nourishment, not for convenience or because you're in a hurry. Eat at home more often. Eat more plant-based foods like experts have been telling us for years. And, in what might be the only new twist here, clean up your act in general by adopting a "cleaner" lifestyle. That means getting lots of physical activity during the day, enough sleep at night and managing any stress in a healthy way, as in not over-drinking like Cathy Goddard's excellent article ("Being sober curious") described in Pique last week.

As clean eating is catching fire, or maybe even because of it, influencers of a different type in the U.K are raising red flags about their food supply as Brexit efforts wind up, fall apart, and wind up again.

According to reports in The Guardian, it all stems from the U.K. contemplating whether post-Brexit food standards should be lowered to allow in U.S. products, such as chlorine-washed chicken. The food fight came to a head amid protests and heated comments over trade issues during the Trumps' royal visit this week, a possible "re-set" moment for trade with Theresa May on the way out and Brexit still dangling.

National health, Huawei and, yes, chlorinated chicken were all on the table, so to speak, after U.S. ambassador Woody Johnson earlier this year "suggested" the U.K. would need to allow U.S. agricultural products into the U.K. market as part of any post-Brexit trade deal (along with private U.S. companies gaining access to Britain's proud national health system).

Never mind the health care gambit, it was the chlorine-washed chicken that grabbed my attention. Fears about U.S. farming practices in general resurfaced after Mr. Johnson insisted that practices such as washing chicken in chlorine to kill pathogens like salmonella were safe.

These echoed comments made several years ago by U.K. trade secretary, Liam Fox, who insisted there were no health reasons "why you couldn't eat chickens that have been washed in chlorinated water," reported The Guardian. "Most of the salads in our supermarkets are rinsed in chlorinated water."

Before you go "euugh," or, "that's OK by me," know that it's not exactly chlorinated water that's used in meat processing. I have no idea about U.K. standards for salad washing, but our own federal government has no objections to some sort of chlorine-ish washing of raw chicken and other meats processed in plants here in Canada, not just the cutting boards, knives and other paraphernalia used to process the meat.

In what are known as Letters of No Objection, or LONOs for short, the Bureau of Chemical Safety at Health Canada lists in detail the chemical treatments that, while it doesn't exactly approve them, at least it has no objections to in terms of "antimicrobial processing aids." Among these are sodium hypochlorite and calcium hypochlorite, both chemical compounds commonly used in water purification, bleaching and the like. Both can be used in solutions of up to 20 to 50 ppm, or parts per million, to "wash" raw meat. (Maybe a bit more encouragement to eat more plants!)

By comparison, most chlorinated drinking water in B.C. will be no more than 2.0 ppm. Drinking water in Whistler is well below this level. Emerald Estates drinking water, for instance, was only chlorinated to 0.4 ppm, according to the 2017 Annual Drinking Water Report. B.C. swimming pools might hit 5.0 ppm of chlorine, or about 1/10th the chicken-washing concentration, and you know how strong that pool water can smell.

The E.U. has long banned using strong chlorine solutions for washing meat. The thinking is it encourages poor hygiene standards—standards that would be illegal in the E.U.—along with industrial animal farming.

I guess I'm with U.K. pundit George Monbiot on this one. It's not the chlorine that gets me, per se. It's the other standards, or lack of them, in America's farming practices. The use of antihistamines to make chicken meat more tender. The use of growth hormones, steroids, antibiotics and more in raising chickens and other animals—many of these substances banned in Canada, too. Think about that next time you drive across the border for "cheap" milk or meat.

It all comes down to how you think about your food. Experts in the U.K. are horrified by the idea of letting in U.S. agricultural products because Britain has long valued the "farm to fork" principle. Raise it on the farm and get it to your fork with as few interventions as possible.

Here in B.C., especially on the West Coast, we value that, too, much like we've valued "clean eating" long before it got named and tagged in social media.

Here's to more cleanliness with less chlorine.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who avoids bleach.