Export food to the EU? Beware of proposed chlorate limits

April 2020

Some of our customers are asking us about the fact that the EU are looking to impose a limit on the level of chlorates found on imported food after finding the chlorates have come from either water or chemical residue from cleaning.  Here’s a link to more info on this new requirement: https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/initiative/2075/publication/368328/attachment/090166e5c0cdd473_en

Where do chlorates come from?

One of the big culprits of chlorates on food contact surfaces is sodium hypochlorite (commonly referred to as liquid chlorine) degrading over time when it sits in storage.  As this is the predominant product used for microbial control of potable water by small to medium food processors in NZ, it will affect us in this country as much as any other food exporters globally.

What options do I have to control this?

There are definitely ways of getting around it, however they will cost more than what the industry has been used to using, which are products based on sodium hypochlorite.  For potable water treatment, you can either change to a different type of chemistry, such as peracetic acid bringing along a whole bunch of its own “issues”, or install a small electro-generated chlorine unit.  These units make chlorine on demand, so consequently reduce the risk of chlorate forming in the first place.  Secondly you could carbon-filter all of your potable water after chlorination, but that would get fairly costly.

What about chlorates coming from chemical cleaners and sanitisers?

There are already alternatives available to sodium hypochlorite based products which work well, but they cost significantly more in most cases.  As a very rough average, the non-chlorinated versions of meat-industry cleaners that don’t contain QAC (Quatennary Ammonium Compounds which are another EU issue), would be around 50% more expensive than their chlorinated counterparts.

How do I test for this?

There is no test that we know of that is suitable or practical for testing chlorate residues specifically on surfaces after cleaning.  You could collect a certain amount of pooling water from a surface post-rinsing and send it to a lab for analysis, but you are best to check with your analytical lab on this point, to see what is available.

Where to from here then?

Our suggestion is to focus first on the potable water treatment, as this water is what is used to rinse off the chlorinated cleaners from the surface, so are the last compound to touch that surface before the meat does.  If you are detecting chlorate from improperly rinsed cleaners, then you would also be detecting a lot of other detergent related residues, which means chlorate reduction is the least of your worries! Based on that reasoning, we believe it is likely that your potable rinse water will be your main culprit.

A number of large food/beverage processors already have electro-chlorine generators, but they are using pretty massive amounts of water which helps the initial outlay stack up.  We suggest you contact your preferred water treatment vendor and ask them what options are available to you around potable water treatment on demand.

If you believe that chlorates on food contact surfaces in your plant are coming from the chemicals you are using, the next option is to contact us by completing the form below and one of our team can help you explore the options of changing away from the sodium hypochlorite based cleaning chemicals you are currently using.

Post by Glen Senior