Visiting a poultry slaughter house (Day 523)

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Supreme Pet Foods

It’s amazing how much supermarkets insulate us from the reality of where the food comes from – so much so that some school children even believe that chickens come from Tesco (but that’s another rant). In the matter of an hour or so today I saw thousands of chickens slaughtered, butchered and packaged ready to go out to supermarkets to be selected by people to go onto the dining room table. For some reason even though I knew where chicken came from, and had some theory about the way that slaughter happens, I never actually expected what I saw today.

I think one of the things that made me think the most about it was that we started the process backwards because of hygiene reasons. Basically any slaughter house is split into clean and dirty areas, and you cannot cross between them to avoid contamination. This meant that we started with the packing areas, and then went backwards along the line to the trucks offloading crates of birds.

So after going through hygiene control, we entered the clean area, the first thing noticeable is the noise, and the second the automatic rails (like in a dry cleaners) traversing the massive room with featherless headless chickens hanging from them. Generally I was not expecting so many workers to be here, however there were close to a hundred or so workers in this room.

Going back to the line, there was a lot of automation, the first stage selected whole chickens by their weight automatically to be packed and sold as such. Any that do not make the weight classes will move forward along the line which will then remove the wings for packing, the chest/breasts and then the legs. The breasts will have the skin removed by a machine, however the breast muscles cannot be automatically separated so have a separate line where this is done manually before these are also packed.

Now the most disturbing part of my day, leaving this spotlessly clean area we went through two sets of doors into what could be described as a older area of the plant. Broken tiles on the floor, and a single machine sat in the middle by itself with wheeled bins full of the waste bones that came off the original line. This was the mechanical recovery device, the one that produces the pink slime that the processed food and fast food (McDonalds) industry likes to pretend is chicken. The waste bones were emptied into the top of this bin, and a pipe coming out spewed waste bones from the end whilst the pink slime was squeezed from the side… Pretty much put me of any product with mechanically recovered chicken for life…

After this we worked our way further up the line to the stage before the packing. This was the evisceration (removal of the internal organs) and post mortem section of the line. The evisceration was done automatically, a drill like machine came down and cut the skin around the anus of the bird, and then on the next machine a hook basically slipped in and pulled the internal organs out. I found this interesting as I had always wondered how it was done! The bird carcass and the organs were kept together on separate hooks as the next stage was the post mortem station where a vet does a visual inspection. Personally I am not sure how effective it is when you have 30 or so birds going past every minute (and how the vet is not put into a trance) however it does allow the very obvious diseased meat to be discarded. These then pass along the line to where more manual workers separate the liver, gizzard and heart from the rest of the organs as these are the organs used for human consumption. The final step at this stage was the changing of the position of the chicken so that the feet could be removed automatically.

After we moved to the slaughter area, this has a loading ramp and several workers unload the trucks hanging the birds onto the conveyor system by their feet before then enter the killing room. The killing room was pretty automated, the birds went through a water bath to stun them, before having their necks cut by an automatic blade. A single worker ensures that this is done correctly and manually does this for any birds where the automatic blade is not effective.

The final stage we saw was the removal of the feathers, this is done using high temperature to scald the dead carcass and make the skin looser before the feathers are removed using brushes along the conveyor belt. The feathers are then dried and stored for other products.

After returning I then had pharmacology practical where we looked at sulfonamides (a type of antibiotic) and the plasma concentrations. After this I managed to make it in to watch a surgery for a prolapsed uterus and rectum in a guinea pig.

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