On each and every day that chickens leave the farm and arrive at the processing plant, managers should be implementing a series of activities both before and during the actual processing if maximum quality is to be consistently achieved. These activities address both physical and sanitary issues.

A number of common activities that need to be addressed at the processing plant include:

  • Proper storage to prevent birds being dead on arrival;
  • Monitoring of the two most important environmental variables – temperature and relative humidity;
  • Verifying sanitary conditions of the building and equipment before actual processing starts;
  • Ensuring that all equipment and tools are ready to use;
  • Checking that all personnel are ready to work;
  • Ensuring an orderly supply of birds to the hanging area to guarantee that all shackles are being used; and
  • Monitoring of offal to ensure that any giblets, for example the gizzard, liver, heart and neck, are being mixed into it.

Processing chickens is a fast-paced activity, reaching speeds of three birds per second, with a line speed of 12,000 birds per hour. Unfortunately, plant supervisors often forget the importance of real-time tracking. Sometimes they become so focused on reaching production targets – birds per hour – that they unintentionally overlook key aspects of the process itself, and these have a direct impact on the quality, safety and yield of the processed birds.

Grassroots expertise  

To tackle issues such as those listed above, many companies have introduced a staff committee, or “Elite Group,” to ensure that all the small but important details of the process are properly taken care of. Should any of these variables deviate from the ideal, this committee immediately informs the management group so all necessary corrective actions can be implemented.

Once birds are hung on the shackles, a different set of variables needs to be monitored. These might include:

  • Chickens flapping during stunning;
  • Flapping and struggling during bleeding;
  • Chickens falling down in the bleeding tunnel;
  • Birds floating during scalding;
  • Subcutaneous fat melting away and being lost during chilling;
  • Water in the pre-chiller turning slightly red; and
  • Foam appearing in the chiller’s water.

When an abnormal situation is detected, a member of the EG should immediately inform the supervisor so that a prompt decision can be taken on remedial action.

For example, if the problem needs the intervention of the maintenance group, the supervisor can contact them directly. The maintenance group can then evaluate the situation and give an answer on the time required for corrective action to be taken.

With this information at hand, the area supervisor can continue his duties, while the members of the EG monitor that the job is being completed properly and on time by the maintenance team. Once faults have been corrected, an EG member reports this back to the supervisor.

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Management activities are of paramount importance during processing. Again, a member of the EG should monitor that all product losses are within acceptable parameters.

For example, if the DOA parameter has a maximum level of 0.1%, for a plant that processes 100,000 birds per day, a maximum of 100 chickens per day dying from heat stress might be acceptable. During one shift of eight hours, a rate of 12 birds per hour dying would be considered normal.

Should the DOA rate suddenly increase, the members of the EG should notify the supervisor so that decisions can be taken to bring the situation back under control as soon as possible. The same monitoring system can be applied to downgrading, red chickens, overscalding, damage to chickens during plucking, loss of gizzard meat by removing the cuticle and so on.

Guiding processes  

The role of the EG is very similar to that of air traffic controllers at airports, as both have the responsibility of guiding processes.

Performing their roles is dependent on two basic principles:

  • Knowledge and extensive experience of every detail that may affect the various processes; and
  • The attitude of management to take appropriate decisions in real time.

The EG should comprise specialists from various disciplines, including food, agroindustrial and veterinary medicine, among others. The committee should report to the highest authority within the plant – normally the plant manager. This will enable the EG to properly manage the most important areas during the day-to-day operation of the plant.

By paying attention to and controlling all the small details within the processing plant through the establishment of a special staff committee – the Elite Group – it is possible to raise quality, safety and the yield levels of the chickens that pass through the plant.