Production Ballet Ballet

By Barbara Young,
Cargill Meat Solutions’ Fort Morgan, CO, beef plant operates with a cast of veterans responsible for choreographing processing lines for food safety first, followed by manufacturing efficiency and worker comfort and safety.
Of the numerous acronyms in the meat and poultry industry wordbook, HACCP (hazard analysis critical control points) is doubtless the most revolutionary concept ever to garner unanimous approval as a weapon against product contamination.
“HACCP is here to stay because it works,” confirms Mike Chabot, general manager at the Cargill Meat Solutions’ Fort Morgan, CO, fed-cattle beef plant. “As a dream system, it forces you to re-evaluate processes on a regular basis and then take action.”
Even so, Chabot and his counterparts responsible for production at the 27 other beef, pork, and turkey facilities — representing the family of plants under the auspices of Wichita, KS-based Cargill Meat Solutions (CMS), a business unit of Cargill Inc. — know that effective food-safety program calls for multiple interventions.
“The industry used to look for magic bullets, but that won’t happen,” notes John O’Carroll, president, Cargill Value Added Products. “Magic is there, but it must work in conjunction with other practices. Food safety is everybody’s business. We actively examine food safety throughout the supply chain to reduce the amount of pathogens that enter plants.”
On the pork side, Dirk Jones sees food safety and product quality as reflections in the same mirror. “During harvest, stress is reduced by using carbon dioxide stunning because less stress increases tenderness,” reports Jones, president, Cargill Pork. “Bacteria counts are monitored daily during pre-operation and line operation.”
Seven years ago, the pork business added CVP (Cargill Value Pork) to its workbook as a way of providing international markets with elite pork the likes of CAB (Certified Angus Beef). “The quest was to differentiate ourselves in taste and performance, which we accomplished by altering the genetic makeup of our animals. Innovation was the key,” Jones says, adding that Cargill pork owns about 25 percent of its livestock for this purpose.
The lion’s share of plants producing CMS product operate on the beef side of the business — one of the largest being the Fort Morgan plant whose upgrades totaled $22 million in the past year — $3 million of that on fabrication improvements. “Cargill Meat Solutions believes that an investment must be made to create new and better meat solution to stimulate demand for its products,” reports Bill Rupp, president, Cargill Beef. “Over the past ten years, Cargill Meat Solutions invested more than a billion dollars to upgrade, improve, and redesign plants.”
Beef business solutionsThe 800,000 square-foot facility in Fort Morgan is capable of processing 5,000 head of cattle daily representing about 1.5 million per year. The facility is a showcase for technology on the plant floor, the cattle receiving area, and the wastewater treatment system. The fab floor features new fabrication saws requiring little or no human handling. As Chabot, plant manager, explains, employees guided meat through the saws in the past. Now conveyor belts move meat through saws that cut where a laser marks. “The product benefit is specifications are met precisely,” Chabot says.
The recently redesigned cattle receiving pen bears the signature traits of Temple Grandin, who developed the blueprint for the space where between 130 and 140 truckloads of cattle are delivered daily. “The cattle move as smooth as silk through this plant,” Grandin notes. Trucks connect to entry gates to allow cattle to begin their journey to the pen below on a platform of subtle gradation. The cattle area is behind a high concrete wall, away from the view of roadway traffic.
“Cattle wander naturally and quietly from trucks to pens and from the pens to the harvest floor with ease,” Chabot explains. “They are handled in a humane way to minimize stress and that equates to more consistently tender final product.” Odor also is under control at the plant thanks to a wastewater system and its cornerstone lagoon treatment process. Methane gas captured from the wastewater piped underground to the lagoon two blocks away is refined and burned in plant boilers. “We save money and it is better for the environment,” Lenny Hochnadel, slaughter manager, says. “When running, and that’s pretty much all the time, effluent goes to the lagoon. The waste doesn’t stink, and city loves us because the bio-gas is contained.”
Turkey processing techniques
CMS turkey plants operate in Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, and Arkansas, where the plant in Springdale ranks as a top employer with 820 employees from that community populated by approximately 42,000.
“We work to not only improve the quality of our product, but also the quality of our workforce,” O’Carroll, president, emphasizes. “Creating a safe work environment means we have people who stay, thus allowing us to provide consistency in our process. You can’t create a great place to work if people are constantly getting hurt.” The work safety record over the past two years totals more than 7 million hours with no loss time accidents, O’Carroll reports. “We try to find ways to have people bring their brains to work with them, not leave them behind in their cars,” he says. “By enhancing their skills they understand the part they play in making products for a particular customer.”
O’Carroll says the grain prices represent 60 percent of the operating costs on the turkey side, followed by labor. “We’re constantly looking for ways to automate and make work easier by engineering out unsafe jobs,” he says. Plant improvements include packaging equipment designed to reduce labor and manual handling of trayed product; a UV system on broth-making equipment to reduce or at best eliminate bacteria issues; separation of slaughter and further-processing; and chlorine dioxide system in chillers to improve pathogen control.
The plant’s product mix includes fresh and frozen whole birds, bone-in breast meat, ground turkey, turkey burgers, breakfast, bratwurst, and Italian sausages, and breast meat cuts as chops, strips, and roasts.
Progressive pork production
“Pork is the most popular protein consumed throughout the world,” Jones, president, Cargill Pork, notes. “We continue to develop new branded programs, like Sterling Silver Special Reserve pork and Tender Choice pork that provide our customers new and unique pork solutions.” The process comes together on the plant floor where distinctive techniques and skilled associates combine to turn raw product into a range of pork cuts.
The CMS plant in Wapello County, IA, near the city of Ottumwa processes up to 18,000 hogs daily on two shifts with 2,200 employees. Besides standard domestic products, the mix includes CC loins, MM loins, tenderloins, CT butts, bacon, Tender Choice pork, and specialized products manufactured in the plant’s dedicated Japan Export Room. The processing time from stick to cooler is 31 minutes. Carcasses — maintained between 5°C to 7°C for U.S. domestic product lines and between 1°C to 3°C to meet Japanese product specifications — go through a blast-chilling tunnel. Final product temperatures hold at -1°C for chilled products and -20°C for frozen cuts. Recent plant improvements include the switch to CO2 stunning and gentle hog handling proven to increase pH for improved color and taste. Enhanced blast-chilling capacity comprising 90 minutes in a -40°F blast-chill freezer coupled with careful cold-chain control ensure fresh flavor, color, and texture. NP