Key points for worker focus in poultry processing

Identifying key issues in poultry production and encouraging worker engagement to solve them can result in far more efficient broiler processing

A well-designed hanging area will not only allow workers to work more quickly and efficiently, but will also be beneficial for bird welfare. (Photo by Eduardo Cervantes López)
A well-designed hanging area will not only allow workers to work more quickly and efficiently, but will also be beneficial for bird welfare. (Photo by Eduardo Cervantes LĂłpez)

Reporting and dialogue between poultry processing plant staff and management can help to ensure that the plant runs smoothly and efficiently. If workers are encouraged to submit ideas for improvements to the management team, and implementing those improvements is fostered through bonuses, all are incentivized to see productivity increase.

There are a number of key areas where additional staff focus could pay particular dividends.

Lairage

The challenge at this stage is to ensure that birds are kept as comfortable as possible, and staff working here must ensure that conditions favor this. For example, the area must have good air circulation and renewal. Panting must be kept to a minimum along with the number of birds that arrive at the shackles dead.

Hanging live birds onto shackles

This area needs to be ergonomically designed. With ergonomics fully considered, each worker may be able to hang up to 1,800 birds an hour without tiring excessively. A well designed work space can also benefit bird welfare which can help to minimize the number of broilers rejected by the quality control teams.

Cage washing, repair, disinfection

Cages must always be in the best possible condition. This will help to ensure that no harm comes to birds when they are caged and transported.

Cages need to be checked and repaired before, or at the end of, each shift, and, depending on the number birds slaughtered, there could be team dedicated this task each day at a specified time.

Route from hanging to stunner entrance

Birds must be kept calm during transit to the stun bath. The journey from the point of hanging to the stunner entrance should last no more than 20-30 seconds to prevent blood from accumulating in broilers’ wings due to gravity and flapping.

Stun bath

Pre-shock must be prevented and the time in the water bath should last 10-12 seconds. When birds leave the stun bath they must be completely relaxed, and they should reach the killer within a further 10-12 seconds. This gives time for the heart rate to normalize and so improve the bleed.

Bleed tunnel

Birds should be calm with only the occasional wing flapping due to reflex action. Any additional movements at this stage can result in wing damage and bleeds which, in turn, will lead to more broilers being rejected.

Feather and skin cleaning

This activity must remove as much feces as possible from the feathers and skin, so reducing the amount of organic material that enters the scalders. The scalding tank water will be cleaner as a result, helping to reduce cross contamination.

Clean-water-poultry-processing

Washing carcasses will help to keep scalder water clean and reduce the chances of cross contamination.  | Photo by Eduardo Cervantes LĂłpez

Scalding tanks

To conserve as much heat as possible, the entrances to the scalding tanks should be as narrow as possible. If heat is escaping from scalders they can be covered or, as an extreme measure, closed as much as is practicable. There are some scalders available that that do not need to be covered to stop heat loss. Proper scalder management can help to reduce fuel costs.

In addition to minimizing heat loss, the foam that accumulates on the water’s surface in scalers needs to be regularly removed. This is the birds’ intestinal flora and represents a serious problem for cross contamination. Foam must be kept at the lowest possible level during scalding.

It is also important that the water level in the scalders is not allowed to drop during the shift. Keeping scalding tanks full is necessary to ensure that thigh feathers are properly loosened.

Water temperature also needs to be carefully monitored to ensure that it is even across the tanks, a failure to ensure this could result in uneven skin appearance once birds are plucked.

Pluckers

It is important to ensure that disks are fully loaded with natural rubber fingers that are in a good state of repair. The hardness of the fingers should vary, reflecting the area of the bird to be removed, and there should be an adequate of warm water.

The overhead conveyor must be properly tensioned and the damning up of birds must be prevented as this will result in them being exposed to the rubber fingers for longer and possibly being damaged.

All of the shackles must be filled. If not, there will be more space for them to swing, potentially resulting in damage.

Birds must be properly aligned and firmly secured within the shackles to keep the number that fall to the floor to a minimum.

Evisceration

While evisceration equipment can handle a variety of bird weights, it will not perform properly if birds are not properly positioned in the shackles. A failure to attend to this detail can lead to partial or significant carcass damage, reducing the plant’s yield.

The switch of birds from the killing overhead conveyor to that leading to the evisceration equipment may be conducted manually or automatically. When automatic, maintaining the initial settings of the maintenance team is critical. When manual, the transfer must be made quickly and well.

Chilling

The challenge at this stage is to monitor foam formation during pre- and final chilling. Foam will be the consequence of poorly managed scalding operations. If temperatures are too high at scalding, or if broilers remain in the scalders for too long, skin fat will liquify resulting in a whitish foam. Studies have shown that losing this fat can result in a loss in carcass yield of 0.5-2% on exiting the final chiller.

If workers are well trained, and motivated through bonuses, it should be possible to quickly remedy the difficulties outlined above, to the benefit of employees and management alike.

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