Enforcement of key EU legislation around chlorates will affect the food industry – Peter Littleton, Technical Director of Christeyns Food Hygiene, explains more.

Chlorate – a summary

The level of chlorates in crops is currently a focal point of concern as new upper limits are being enforced through EU legislation. A default MRL (maximum residue limit) has been set at 0.01mg/kg, with some crop-specific limits now being introduced.

Chlorate is a by-product of the decomposition of sodium hypochlorite in solution and is commonly found in drinking water where such processes are used to ensure the microbiological safety of water for drinking, irrigation of crops and washing of food contact surfaces.

The proposed introduction of an MRL for chlorate has implications for those washing and processing vegetables as well as anyone rinsing other biocides from food contact surfaces to meet the requirements of other MRL’s established under Plant Protection Product legislation.

At present the MRL is at the proposal and consultation stage with the Food & Biocides Industry Group, chaired by the Chilled Food Association, collating and submitting comments to the European Union and EFSA to ensure that the issue of food safety is included in the considerations being given to the control of residual by-products in foodstuffs.

At the present time no action is needed from industry except to engage with regulators and FBIG to feed in data, information and comments that can be collated and fed to regulators to ensure a full picture of the purpose of chlorine disinfection is understood.  Businesses utilising chlorine disinfection procedures can also follow some simple steps to effectively curtail the level of chlorate that may be found in food: –

  • Using the lowest possible concentrations of chlorine disinfectants that achieve the desired disinfection level;
  • A sufficient refreshment rate of the washing water; for whilst the chlorine evaporates, the chlorate residues concentrate in the water;
  • Not “topping up” stored solutions of chlorine disinfectants as this may lead to elevated chlorate levels and;
  • Proper storage of disinfectant products as exposure to light or high temperature causes the degradation of chlorine disinfectants to chlorate prior to usage.

The GFSI have just published two volumes on the use of biocides in food processing which are freely available to download: –