When a baby carrot turns white (“white blushing”), this causes the bags of carrots to be pulled from the shelf and thrown away. To prevent this consumer waste, the carrots are dipped in chlorine to prevent the white blushing from happening.
Chlorine is a very well-known carcinogen. Organic growers instead use a citrus based, nontoxic solution called Citrox.
About 3 billion pounds of carrots are sold each year in the U.S. Of these, about 20 percent are peeled and processed for sale as miniature “baby carrots,” carrot sticks, and other varieties of fresh, processed carrots.
Why are They Bleaching Carrots?
As described in the articles above, part of the processing of these mini carrot sticks entails submerging them in a bleach bath in order to keep them looking enticing longer by stopping the formation of so-called “white blush.”
According to one U.S. patent for inhibiting white blush on processed carrots, freshly processed carrots begin to develop a white, chalk-like appearance after just a few days, as opposed to whole, unprocessed carrots, which may be stored in your fridge for several weeks without deteriorating.
The rate at which the white blush appears depends on a variety of factors, such as:
- The condition of the carrots prior to processing
- The degree of abrasiveness of the processing
- The chemical treatments applied to the carrots during processing
- Humidity levels during storage
Additionally, carrots grown in poorly irrigated fields tend to form white blush discoloration faster than carrots grown in well irrigated fields.
Although this white blush does not affect the nutritional value or taste of the carrots, many people find them unappetizing, and stores can’t sell them once they’re starting to turn.
So, in order to prolong shelf life and reduce waste, chlorine has and is being used both for sanitation purposes and to curtail the development of white blush. The patent mentioned above calls for one or two chlorine baths during their processing, using a chlorine concentration between 50-150 ppm (parts per million).
Fifteen to 20 ppm of free chlorine is considered the typical amount experts say is needed to kill bacteria.
Is Chlorine Safe to Eat?
Chlorine is a chemical that companies use to make a variety of common products, including plastics, pesticides and paper. It’s also been used as the main disinfecting strategy for U.S. public water supplies since 1908.
Water chlorination has virtually eliminated waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis. However, over the last 30 years a growing body of research has shown that chlorine and its byproducts are actually quite harmful to your health.
Over time, chlorine and disinfection byproducts build up in the environment, in your food, and your body. So although the amount of chlorine you ingest from cocktail carrots may be minute, it’s added to your overall toxic burden from a number of other sources – your water supply probably being one of the worst.
However, just like in water, it is not the chlorine you have to worry about. When chlorine interacts with organic matter it will form dangerous disinfection byproducts (DBPs) which are many thousands of times more toxic than chlorine. Research has now confirmed that the byproducts formed when chlorine reacts with organic material in water are some of the most potent toxins out there. Among them are trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs). These disinfection byproducts are believed to be over 1,000 times more toxic than chlorine.
It is important to understand that the term “organic” is used two ways here. The strict chemical definition of organic is any compound that is carbon based. The other organic term is used to identify foods that were grown under healthier conditions, typically free of pesticides.
So please understand that the chlorine forms these DBPs in ALL carrots, organically and non-organically grown.Long-term risks of consuming chlorinated water and DPBs include excessive free radical formation, which accelerates aging, increases vulnerability to genetic mutation and cancer development, hinders cholesterol metabolism, and promotes hardening of your arteries.
Excess free radicals created by chlorinated water also generate dangerous toxins inside your body. These have been directly linked to:
- Liver malfunction
- Weakening of your immune system
- Pre-arteriosclerotic changes in your arteries
In addition, chlorine destroys antioxidant vitamin E, which is needed to counteract excess oxysterols/free radicals for cardiac- and anti-cancer protection.
Chlorine has also been shown to destroy protective acidophilus that nourishes and cooperates with the immunity-strengthening "friendly bacteria" lining your colon.
So is it really realistic to say that carrots bathed in bleach are completely safe to consume?
I would say no, especially when considering that baby carrots are typically fed to young children.
The sobering fact is that in most cases science isn’t even close to understanding the potential short-term and long-term impact of chlorine and other chlorine-based chemicals on your body. There are hundreds of them. And science isn’t even close to understanding what levels of these chemicals can cause damage.
The chemical industry likes to point out that there’s no “sound science” to suggest that chlorine is dangerous and shouldn’t be used. Others strongly disagree.
In the book Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy, Joe Thornton of Columbia University’s Center for Environmental Research and Conservation contends there is enough sound science available to understand that chlorine can cause big trouble in your body, not to mention the environment, and that a range of alternatives to this chemical are readily available.
Are Chlorinated Veggies Really Necessary?
I recommend avoiding eating vegetables processed with chlorine. You’re already being bombarded with chlorine and other toxins from so many other sources, and the remedy, in the case of carrots, is so simple. Just buy whole, unprocessed carrots and wash, peel, and cut them yourself.
Your healthiest option, of course, is to locate fruits and vegetables that are grown organically and preferably locally. While this may be a challenge in some areas, it is clearly worth the effort and will go a long way toward avoiding the many health hazards related to the factory-farming and commercial processing methods used in producing conventional foods.
Great resources to obtain wholesome food that supports not only you but also the environment include:
- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
- Farmers' Markets
- Weston A. Price Foundation
- Local Harvest
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)
- Chicago-Area: Chicago's Green City Market (Chicago's only sustainable market with the highest quality locally farmed products. Wednesdays and Saturdays, May through October. Located at the south end of Lincoln Park, north of the Historical Society parking lot between 1750 N. Clark St. & Stockton Dr.)
The National Resources Defense Council (NDRC) also offers a great tool on their website that helps you determine what fruits and vegetables are in season in your state, and this previous article offers even additional helpful tips and guidelines for finding local food no matter where you live in the U.S.