Why Electrolyzed Water Is Not the Best Choice for Teats

Electrolyzed water generators (Hypochlorite Generators) and electrolyzed water (ELW) have generated some discussion on dairy farms for their promise of producing an inexpensive yet effective teat dip. Many manufacturers go as far as promising these generators can make a range of chlorine disinfectants. In reality, an electrolyzed water generator can only make one disinfectant, sodium hypochlorite, better known as common household bleach.

A common phantom chemical that these generators claim to produce is “Chlorous Acid” as an active ingredient.  Chlorous Acid and even Hypochlorus Acid are compounds that are unstable, only present for milliseconds and un-measurable.  Electrolyzed water is a modern day snake oil that is promised to be inexpensive and effective in any dairy farm.  The fact is, household bleach can be diluted for fa     r less money than generators can produce their product, with absolutely no investment in machinery.  Overuse of these products can lead to the development of resistant organisms due to its single mode of kill.  Most alarmingly, use of this chlorine compound forms cancer-causing by-products.

Electrolyzed Water – Production of Carcinogens

The most important concern with ELW is the byproducts “THM’s” or Trihalomethanes. THM’s forms naturally during the disinfection process when chlorine molecules react with organic materials present in water, on skin or on some other surface, even in milk. The most recognized THM is Chloroform. THM’s are Carcinogens and their limits (parts per billion) in public drinking water are strictly regulated by law.  The most common side effects of over exposure to THM’s are mammary, reproductive, respiratory, kidney, and liver cancers.  THM’s can also cause central nervous system problems. The most public example of THM’s and their threat to public health occurred in Flint Michigan and they occurred for reasons similar to what may occur on a dairy farm.  High organic content river water and excessive amounts of Chlorine caused a dangerous build-up in THM’s which lead many residents to have different health problems.  THM’s can be absorbed through skin, ingested or inhaled. Prolonged exposure can cause acute effects such as irritation, inflammation, loss of appetite and weight loss in addition to the chronic conditions listed above. Chlorine compounds Sodium Hypochlorite, Hypochlorus Acid and Chlorine gas used in disinfection will form THM’s.  Chlorine compounds that don’t form THM’s and are safe are “Chlorine Dioxide” or “Acidified Sodium Chlorite”.

A Better Option for Teat Prep

Teat scrubbers are another popular item on dairy farms. A teat scrubber is a cost-effective way to create a more consistent, streamlined prep process with less labor. Most teat scrubbers promise better teat-end health, a lower somatic cell count, and less mastitis cases. Unfortunately, most teat scrubber manufacturers don’t recommend which disinfectant that goes through their machines. Teat scrubbing machinery is only one part of an effective system.  The disinfectant in most cases is the most important part of the process.

Safety First

Most importantly when considering using ELW products in a teat scrubber, are they even safe?  The Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) clearly states that products applied to teats for disinfection must be considered “Generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Sodium Hypochlorite is not a GRAS product at effective use concentrations, and therefore shouldn’t be used as a teat dip.  Also, it is not recommended by the NMC as an appropriate teat disinfectant. Efficacy needs to be priority as well. Bleach can be effective in killing most bacteria but, the recommended strength for common everyday use as a disinfectant is 2-4%. At that percentage a strong odor is present, and long exposure will begin to irritate the skin, and multiple exposures will start to break down the skin cells causing cracks and dryness. A study conducted in 2001 even proved that sodium hypochlorite, when tested at the same chlorine concentration as other chlorine based products, needed 2-3 times more chemical to achieve the same kill rate.  In contrast, Chlorine Dioxide is GRAS, and effective at low use concentrations, and will never form THM’s.  The use of Chlorine Dioxide or Acidified Sodium Chlorite in teat scrubbers is patented and limited to use in the patentee’s equipment. (US Patent 8,402,920).  ELW systems, Sodium Hypochlorite and associated products are ineffective and unsafe for use in teat scrubbers.

The Case Against Hypochlorite

The overuse of Hypochlorite on dairy farms is a concerning trend that requires further investigation.  Hypochlorite is a cytotoxic (cell-killing), aquatic toxin as well as a contributing factor in the development of resistant organisms.  In calf rearing, it is completely ineffective against Cryptosporidium and the generation and transport of material from facility to facility over certain concentrations becomes a transportation hazard.  Finally, with focus on more natural products free from harmful ingredients or byproducts, are the risks of overuse of Hypochlorite, really worth the benefits?  Maybe in the short-term, but the long term effects could indeed greatly outweigh the benefits.  There isn’t enough data yet on the effects on THM’s on Dairy Farms, but research is starting into the effects and possible effects these systems may have on the overall profitability of a farm.  Subjects such as unexplained reproductive issues, unexplained respiratory issues as well as mastitis caused by non-infectious means are possible areas for study.  Major international beverage manufacturers already have in place strict standards with zero tolerance when it comes to the presence of THM’s, the international market demands it.  Here in the United States, there are no tolerances in place yet, but as with NPE’s, THM’s will certainly be brought to the forefront by creameries and cheesemakers wanting to provide their domestic and international customers the purest product possible, free from Chlorinated residues.

Editor’s Note: Written by Kevin Dole – President, FutureCow