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Case: The essential about chlorate in the food industry

The essential about chlorate in the food industry
Jo Beerden
ingredients of success:

Jo Beerden

  • a dedicated frozen strawberry processing team in Morocco
  • 1 Quality Manager in Morocco, up to speed with food safety & hygiene
  • 1 Customer Quality Manager in Belgium, up to speed with quality control & legislation

Case: Situation

Chlorate is used in the food industry in small amounts as a disinfectant in the washing water for fruits & vegetables. Just like we use slighty chlorinated tap water to wash fruits for household use. However, there is a gap in legislation, which is making the use of chlorate in the food process difficult, even though in acceptable quantities.

Did you know

that tap water in Belgium contains 70 times more chlorate than the maximum allowed residues of chlorate on frozen fruits or vegetables? It is a matter of interpretation of the law.

Background: Disinfectant, like in tap water

Chlorate is used in the food industry in small amounts as a disinfectant in the washing water for fruits & vegetables. This is not new. Chlorate can also be found in small amounts in the tap water that we drink every day. So, in small amounts, chlorate is not harmful. It is actually necessary  to guarantee the microbiological safety of a food product.

Problem: Gap in legislation & lack of European uniformity

Currently the food industry is looking at 2 legislative question marks with regards to chlorate in the food process: First, where does chlorate fit in the law? And second, why is there no uniform legislation in Europe?

1. Where does chlorate fit in the law?

There is no clarity about this. The law creates a framework to mitigate risk in the food industry in 4 categories:

  • Physical checks, including foreign bodies
  • Allergens
  • Microbiology
  • Chemicals, e.g. pesticides

The current legislation aims to reach a balance between those 4 risks and this balance determines the maximum allowed values (mg/kg) of residues in food. With regards to chemicals, legislation stipulates that for chemicals not listed as allowed products, only 0,01 mg/kg can be present as residue in the food product.

The problem with chlorate is: it is not a chemical used in the food product, it is an auxiliary product used during the production process.  When authorities classify this auxiliary product under the same legislation as pesticides they interpret chlorate as a pesticide. As a consequence, you will notice that chlorate is not on the list of allowed products, which means that a residue of max 0,01 mg/kg can be present in the food product.

2. Why is there no uniform European legislation?

Let’s take this example: a Belgian consumer bought fresh strawberries and wants to wash these before eating. In Belgium the maximum allowed value for chlorate residue in tap water is 0,7 mg/kg. Now interpret chlorate as a pesticide: this means that only 0,01 mg/kg of chlorate residue is allowed on the strawberries.

So strictly speaking, the current rules for the allowed residues of chlorate by the food industry in Belgium are 70 times as strict as the allowed residues  in drinking water. This is surrealistic. As if washing strawberries before eating them would be unsafe. In Germany the maximum allowed value for chlorate in tap water is 0,3 mg per liter, lower than in most other countries, which shows the different rules inside the EU.

The current gap in legislation and the lack of European uniformity is resulting in several blocked batches of otherwise perfectly safe food.

How we counter this problem

Our Quality experts are closely monitoring the chlorate theme.
We do 4 things to counter the problem and to deliver safe fruit that is legally compliant:

  • Own risk analysis of the process
    We can perfectly map the risks because we control the washing process: we continuously measure the chlorate values in the water to make sure that possible residues in the fruit always stay within specified and food safe tolerances. Our risk assessment proves that these possible residues are absolutely no risk for food safety.
  • Independent physical analyses on the fruit showing that the residues stay within the expected range.
  • Analysis of the washing process on our strawberry line in Morocco. Our washing process is a CCP (critical control point) which is audited every year.
  • Participation in a chlorate task force inside Profel, the European Association of fruit & vegetable processors. This task force aims to obtain separate legislation for chlorate, where the product is considered as a process step, instead of a pesticide.

Next steps: monitoring & research

First step: our Quality experts closely monitor the evolution of legislation & actively participate in the professional fruit & vegetables association task force to create clear & separate legislation for chlorate. This will result in more transparency, less overreaction to safe levels of chlorate residues and less blocked batches of safe fruits & vegetables.

Second step: we are doing research to find an innovative technique to replace the current washing process in the production process of frozen strawberries.

By monitoring legislation & doing research for a new washing technique , we are on top of the chlorate theme in the fruit & vegetable industry.

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