Food safety

Joint FAO/WHO Project to assess the benefits and risks of the use of "active chlorine" in food production and food processing

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has requested FAO and WHO for scientific advice on the assessment of the benefits and risks of the use of "active chlorine" in food production and food processing. The advice will be elaborated through the implementation of an expert meeting during 2007. At WHO, the Departments of Food Safety and Zoonoses and of Public Health and the Environment are collaborating on this project, together with the FAO Departments of Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Fisheries and Aquaculture.

The term "active chlorine", as it was used in the terms of reference of Codex, includes aqueous solutions of hypochlorous acid and its conjugate base, hypochlorite ion, chlorous acid and its conjugate base chlorite ion, chlorine gas or chlorine dioxide. Chloramine and dichloroisocyanurate may be included if of relevance in the food processing industry.

Since the term "active chlorine" is technically not correct, the term has been replaced with chlorine-containing disinfectants.

The main goals of this project are to consider the risk of chemical residues in products (excluding environmental impact), following the use of chlorine for disinfection purposes in food production versus the benefit of lowering the risk of microbial hazards. The efficacy of chlorine treatment needs to be considered, taking into account different treatment scenarios, different chlorine-containing substances and different pathogens and pathogen/food combinations. These considerations need to be based on current practices, as well as take into account proposed new practices, including the relevance and feasibility of potential alternative approaches.

Update

From the experts that responded to the Call for Experts, a Core group was established to assist FAO and WHO in preparation of the Expert Consultation. A meeting of the Core group was held 7-9 November 7-9 2007 in Rome.

The Core group agreed on a final scope of the project. The group defined topics to be covered and prepared outlines for background papers to be drafted in preparation from the expert consultation. Possible experts for the various areas to be covered were identified, taking experts that applied for the project into account.

Since the term "active chlorine" is technically incorrect, the Core group decided to rename the project as "Expert Consultation on chlorine-containing disinfectants used in the food production and food processing".

Benefits and risks of the use of chlorine-containing disinfectants in food production and food processing

The expert consultation was held in Ann Arbor, USA, 27-30 May 2008. The consultation developed a stepwise approach to risk-benefit assessment of chlorine containing disinfectants and alternatives for the following food categories: meat and poultry, fish and fishery products, fresh produce (including hydroponics and sprouts) and food contact surfaces.

The approach taken was identification of most common disinfection practices for the relevant food categories; identification of possible chemical residues in foods resulting from these treatments and estimating dietary exposure to these residues; evaluation of efficacy of treatment in reduction in the prevalence and numbers of pathogenic microorganisms on food and possible resulting decreased health risk. The strength of the evidence was evaluated in all cases. Potential health risk from chemicals exposure was then compared to potential benefits of decreased health risk from pathogen exposure in a systematic way.

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