How poultry processors can beat COVID-19, plastic threats

COVID-19 and environmental impact are two major challenges for the poultry processing industry but there are ways that these issues can be addressed.

The poultry industry already performs well in some areas in ensuring that plastic waste does not enter the environment, for example in the recycling of crates. | Eduardo Cervantes López
The poultry industry already performs well in some areas in ensuring that plastic waste does not enter the environment, for example in the recycling of crates. | Eduardo Cervantes LĂłpez

Poultry processors, like other food producers, face numerous challenges, but there are two in particular that currently are of deep concern among both producers and consumers – COVID-19 and waste plastics.


COVID-19 has seen how poultry processing plants function undergo significant change. Employees must now use additional personal protective equipment and plants must be disinfected with far greater frequency. Social distancing must be maintained to prevent infection amongst workers. Shields and other infrastructure have been installed to further reduce the possibility of the virus spreading.

While production may have slowed in some plants, and costs have risen as a result of these changes, the demand for chicken has not fallen. Plant managers need to find ways to keep plants producing at levels that are deemed acceptable while ensuring worker health.

With these additional burdens, management needs to look at additional ways of raising productivity. Examples from other industries may be useful in achieving this.

There needs to be a renewed focus on the number of birds that are dead on arrival and they must be kept to an absolute minimum. Additionally, the amount of saleable product that is lost must be reduced. Adopting measures to achieve these two goals will raise productivity and may help to compensate for some of the additional costs resulting from making processing plants COVD-19 safe.

Business management strategies developed in Japan may offer insight into today’s business climate. For example, including all staff members that are not part of the management team in the development of ideas for business improvement.

In any industry, non-managers are the people with the everyday experience of the development and making of a company’s products. They are in direct contact with processes, quality control or the market, for example.

With this experience, they are well-positioned to develop ideas for improvement for the management team to consider. Once this has occurred, ideas can be exchanged to define the best way to improve productivity.

Japanese automobile manufacturer, Toyota, has been a frontrunner in adopting this and other methods that have helped to increase productivity. The company has pioneered, for example, the practices of just in time, zero defects and the lean toolbox.

Additionally, Toyota remains at the forefront of the vehicle market because its directors have achieved economic and social consensus with its workers. This results in a working environment that is productive for everyone.

Today’s business climate may require a rethinking of the established western methods of doing business - where managers make all of the decisions. The Japanese model offers a range of tools for generating ideas that may help to improve a company’s market position.

Tackling plastic

Plastics, especially micro-plastics, and their environmental contamination are also currently of growing concern to an ever-wider group of consumers.

Within the poultry processing industry, numerous plastics are used; for example, in machines and tools, in product packaging and for cleaning and disinfection.

In some areas, the industry has already successfully managed its use of plastics. Plastic crates – used to transport birds from the farm or to hold processed broilers – illustrate how the industry is successfully avoiding waste. Defective or damaged containers are commonly sent back to the manufacturer, where they are recycled and the plastic is used as a raw material. Additionally, poultry part trays made from biodegradable sugar cane or banana waste are now available.

However, there are other instances where plastic is used in processing plants and opportunities exist for recycling that is not currently being taken.

Consider, for example, the brushes used to keep shackles free from feathers or those used in the washers before scalding. Additionally, equipment used in cleaning - brooms, buckets and brushes, along with the equipment from cut up, such as boards, knife and scissor handles, plastic bags, and rubber fingers could largely be recycled.

It is common practice that the waste from each part of the plant is simply put into large plastic bags and left unclassified, and many plants pay for this waste to be taken away.

To solve this problem, each processing plant could have a dedicated area for storing waste that could be recycled. Upon delivery, waste would be immediately classified and crushed, before being put into large reusable sacks. This crushed material is then sold to waste purchasers who sell it to be turned into raw material for new plastic products.

This practice could be encouraged if governments offered tax incentives to processors.

It is worth remembering that all actions have costs. Given that the planet’s resources are finite, to ensure society’s continued wellbeing, a balance needs to be struck between economic progress and the impact on the planet. Processing, and other industries, may want to carefully consider their yearly environmental footprint, taking into account all of the inputs used during processing and cleaning. Considering this footprint may result in the minimization of inputs, or input substitution, which may not only contribute to helping save the planet but may also contribute to profitability.


Numerous waste products could be recycled and their transformation into raw materials would help producers reduce their environmental footprints. | Eduardo Cervantes LĂłpez




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