Total Process Solutions

By Simon Shane
New equipment and systems for poultry packing and processing pave the way for increased throughput, yield, and food safety.
Suppliers of primary and further-processing equipment as well as packaging machinery must be futurists in a sense. They need to anticipate trends in market demand by at least three years in order to design, refine, and test new technology that offers processors an advantage over existing installations.
During the past decade, the global market for processing equipment has diverged into turnkey plants, stand-alone machines, and modular installations. Integrators and cooperatives in the developing industries in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe have favored complete plants extending from live-bird transport through to refrigerated storage of product. Mature markets in Western Europe and the United States, for example, require sophisticated further-processing equipment and high-volume installations for first processing.
Although there has been a steady demand for stand-alone machines, especially in North America and Western Europe, many industry executives, including Andy Miller of Baader-Johnson, maintain that the future is represented by “total-process solutions in which all the components have to function in harmony.” This has led to consolidation within the supplier industry with the inevitable demise of some manufacturers and increased specialization by others, satisfying niche markets with innovative patented technology.
Primary processing developments
Following two decades of intensive development in further processing, there is a recent trend towards upgrading aspects of slaughter, picking, evisceration, and chilling. Innovations in first processing are driven by new concerns over welfare and the need to achieve high standards of microbiological quality.
Welfare considerations and the need to obviate muscle hemorrhage associated with high-voltage stunning have stimulated development of controlled-atmosphere stunning and stun-to-kill systems. YARA, a spin-off from Norsk-Hydro, in conjunction with Stork of Holland, has developed a multiphase controlled-atmosphere stunning system, now in operation in eight European Union (EU) countries. Although the first gas-stunning systems were introduced into Europe in 1996, the technology has not developed beyond research and feasibility evaluation in the United States. This is primarily because U.S. plants operate efficient, low-voltage electrical stunners, which achieve an accepted level of insensibility before slaughter without affecting muscle quality. In contrast, controlled-atmosphere stunning for turkeys offers advantages in ease of hanging, elimination of bone fractures, and a reduction in worker fatigue and injury. The Stork-Yara system is operated in two phases in which appropriate proportions of oxygen and carbon dioxide achieve anesthesia in three minutes. In addition to considerations of quality and labor, controlled-atmosphere stunning appears to improve water-binding properties of muscle, reducing drip loss.
Linco markets a gas-stunning system, which subjects birds to a gradient of carbon dioxide increasing from 5-to-50 percent as loaded baskets transit a tunnel located below floor level in the receiving area. This system is compatible with the company’s Maxiload transport module, which is similar to the drawer systems that are used by two integrators in the United States, but has extensive adoption in the EU. The major restraints to gas stunning for U.S. broilers include capital cost; disruption in retrofitting plants, which are designed to use electrical stunners with a relatively small footprint; and incompatibility with existing transport modules, which are the standard in the industry.
The Simmons SF-7001 Step-Up direct-contact stunner applies technology patented in 1997 to apply a pulsed DC current of 11-13V for 11 seconds followed by low-voltage AC current for five seconds. This combination achieves instant insensibility by direct action on the central nervous system. This unit does not cause the hemorrhages in muscles associated with the European water-bath stunners, which operate at a mandated 110 volts AC at a current level of 105mA, and a frequency of 1000 Hz for four minutes.
Wayne Austin, the developer of the unit, maintains that the Simmons Step-Up Stunner achieves a higher level of insensibility than EU equipment. In combination with an efficient killer, which severs both the jugular and carotid vessels with a single full ventral cut, exsanguination is rapid, contributing to excellent muscle and wing quality while maintaining a high standard of welfare. The step-up stunner is now being installed as a relatively inexpensive retrofit in five EU countries, Australia, and in North America.
Hot deboning has been demonstrated to be a practical process following applications of post-kill electrical stimulation. This allows maturation of muscle within three hours, achieving a highly significant decrease in shear force of breast muscle compared to birds that are not stimulated. Both the Meyn and the Stork Rapid-Rigor units are installed over the bleeding trough, and are activated approximately 60 seconds after slaughter for a 30-second duration. The Meyn unit applies 50V AC in contrast to the Stork module, which stimulates muscle with a gradient from 50-to-200V AC. These systems are currently recommended for plants carrying out a moderate-to-hard scald. Soft scalding impedes removal of primary wing feathers due to accelerated rigor mortis in the muscles associated with feather follicles.
Reducing microbial contamination
Plants using Meyn I.M. type-shackles can now install the Meyn Preventer, which is positioned after the bleeding line before the scald tank. The rotary machine extrudes fecal material from the terminal intestinal tract and flushes the vent area to reduce the level of microbial contamination entering the scalder. Rated at 8,000 bph for broilers up to 6.5 pounds, the Preventer can achieve a 60- to 90-percent reduction in Enterobacteriaceae (including Salmonella spp and E. coli) in scald water with an equivalent reduction in Enterobacteriaceae and Campylobacter sp on skin after plucking.
Scalding technology has undergone a number of refinements during the past decade including countercurrent water flow to reduce microbial load on carcasses entering pickers, adding surfactants to improve heat transfer, air agitation, and more precise temperature control for improved efficiency.
Alternatives to immersion scalding were investigated during the early 1980s, but the cost of energy made mist systems infeasible. Linco has developed a hot-air tunnel that subjects carcasses to hot, moist air jets. The advantage of this system is it is possible to vary the intensity of heat applied to different areas on the bird. Temperature directed to the wings and tail can be set at a level to facilitate subsequent picking. In contrast, the temperature applied to the breast can be reduced to preserve quality without sacrificing the efficiency of defeathering.
Although energy cost is a consideration compared to conventional immersion scalding, water consumption required for initial filling and for overflow are eliminated, which directly benefits the plant with respect to utility costs and compliance with environmental restrictions on effluent volume and composition. Turkey processors have an added advantage from a hot-air scalding system in that line shutdowns do not result in “cooking” of birds, which occurs following prolonged immersion in tanks during breakdowns in excess of 30 minutes. The Linco hot-air scalding system is compatible with Linco production control technology, which stores data for HACCP compliance and flock traceability. The Linco hot-air tunnel can be supplied with a cleaning-in-place option, which dispenses disinfectant foam at the completion of plant operation.
The bottleneck traditionally associated with transfer from the picking line to evisceration has been resolved by introduction of mechanical transfer systems. The Stork HS Auto-rehanger can function at line speeds up to 10,500 bph. This machine is a successor to the TR-DE unit, which operated up to 9,000 bph. Mechanical transfer synchronizes picking and evisceration lines through a computerized control unit, which adjusts relative line speeds irrespective of the length of the killing/picking and evisceration lines and shackle tension.
Linco offers an auto-transfer system suitable for retrofitting to transit from one killing line to two evisceration lines to accommodate a wide range of existing plant configurations.
Automatic evisceration systems are gaining popularity, even in countries with low labor costs, because of their ability to achieve high line speeds and to optimize yield. Linco has achieved considerable market penetration in Brazil and Argentina with installations rated at up to 12,000 bph. Automatic control is necessary at high line speeds, and the company has integrated the system to the Linco-Flex 2000 to coordinate evisceration with second processing.
U.S. integrators are showing increasing adoption of the Stork Nuova, the successor to NuTECH evisceration. Units currently installed will process up to 10,500 bph with an extreme live weight ranging from 1.8-to 8-pounds. Modifications to the system outlined by Frank Nicoletti, executive vice president of Stork-Gamco Inc., include a new viscera pack shackle and the BLH automatic liver harvester. New design features included in the Nuova upgrades reduce maintenance and operating costs.
The Meyn Fat Retention Module has been introduced as a compatible addition to the Maestro evisceration system. The machine allows retention of fat on the left side of the gizzard in the carcass when birds pass through evisceration. This module is designed to increase the yield of broilers weighing above 4 pounds live. A test conducted during development of the module showed that fat yield can be increased by 12 g (0.03 pounds) in a 5.5-pound, high-yield broiler. In addition to increasing salable weight for whole birds, the unit decreases the fat load entering the water treatment installation.
Linco has introduced a high-speed vent cutter and opener rated at 8,400 bph. Other innovations for high-speed evisceration include a combination final inspection and neck breaker, which permits harvesting of neck skin, an improved inside-outside bird washer that reduces water consumption, and a gizzard processor compatible with an 8,000 bph line.
Demands by importers in the EU and other countries for alternatives to immersion chilling will influence post-evisceration processing. This trend is evident both in Thailand where Saha Farms has installed Linco air chillers in their Petchaboon plant, which processes up to 3-million-broilers-per-week. “Non-immersion chilling,” which is common in the EU, is now being extended to new plants and as upgrades in the new and aspirant nations to the EU.
Immersion chilling has been proven to be efficient when using jacketed vessels and air agitation. Control of bacteria by hyperchlorination or addition of approved chemicals reduces levels of carcass contamination, given adequate overflow rates and GMPs. Immersion chilling is appropriate for broilers subjected to a scald of medium to hard intensity, since the epidermis (“bark”) is removed and immersion chilling prevents skin discoloration.
Air chilling is the preferred system of reducing carcass temperature in the EU and is carried out as an on-line process suitable for carcasses up to 5 pounds in weight in relatively large, capital- intensive installation.
During the past 10 years, tunnels have become progressively more efficient with special provisions to ensure circulation of air to minimize dwell time. Most units are rated at 9,000-birds-per-hour. The new Stork water-film chilling process offers advantages over convention air chilling with a high transit rate, reduced drip loss, and enhanced yield. The visual appearance of carcasses subjected to water-film chilling is regarded as superior to air-chilled product.
Stork now offers an immersion-evaporation system for plants supplying markets in transition from immersion chilling to on-line chilling technology. Birds are initially subjected to immersion in a chill tank and are then passed through a modified air tunnel with patented “down-flow” evaporators with high efficiency fans to achieve a core breast temperature of 40ºF. The immersion-evaporation system offers advantages of low water pickup conforming to EU standards, the ability to decontaminate carcasses, and at the same time achieve chilling in a compact multi-tier module. Although these units will comply with statutory limits on microbiological levels and water content, immersion is still a component of the process, and product would not comply with government-imposed sanction on common contact among carcasses.
Linco offer a Quick Air chiller to produce a crust-freeze, which prevents drip loss. Carcasses are suspended from a two-point shackle, which promotes airflow through the interior and over the exterior surfaces, producing a deep muscle temperature of 37ºF within an hour with a 1-percent weight loss. Cross-contamination is avoided using a single-tier cooling circuit. Linco Quick Air chillers are used in Europe to pre-chill carcasses for premium quality, tray-packed whole birds. Improved physical appearance and prolonged shelf life are attributed to the process.
A small-scale integrator in a Northern tier U.S. state uses air chilling to market breast fillets and other portions, which has a superior taste due to the application of a non-immersion process, the company claims. Additional costs of production are offset by a dollar-a-pound differential in selling price over conventionally processed fillets and tenders. As with organic broilers and other products, there is a small but finite niche market for products which affluent consumers perceive as having attributes justifying an increase in purchase price. Subject to the demands of the export market and given a small consumer demand in the United States, mist chilling may become a commercial reality, although conventional and efficient immersion chilling will remain the mainstay of the American industry.
Innovation in cut-up and value-added products continues with a succession of stand-alone units and complete lines offered by the major equipment manufacturers. In-line inspection of carcasses to allocate birds to specific lines is now possible using photo-electronic installations. The Stork AQS-NT improves on the AQS stand-alone installation used for more than a decade to grade whole birds. The new AQS-NT system assigns quality grades to eight anatomical portions at line speeds up to 12,000 bph. Each portions is photographed three times from different angles to identify imperfections. Carcasses are then assigned by the PDS-NT control system to a compatible ACM-MX portioning line to achieve optimal weight and grade. The computerized system is capable of accumulating, assembling, and retrieving data on the physical appearance and defects of processed carcasses.
The Meyn Process Control System comprises a camera, drop station, and re-hanger, coordinated by an M-300 computer. The system scans anatomical portions including each wing and leg and three segments of the breast for adherent blood, bruises, lacerations, inflammatory lesions, and residual wing feathers. The system, which is installed after air chilling, incorporates flock identification and provides high sensitivity and accuracy with varying line speed.
Bone residue persists as a significant problem in all plants says Paul Britt, the complex manager at Tyson Foods, Nashville, AR, facility. Equipment suppliers are addressing this defect with more sophisticated deboning equipment, improved live handling, and more efficient stunning to prevent fracture of the coracoid and clavicular bones. Despite these advances, industry will continue to apply X-ray technology to detect bone fragments.
Front-half deboning has undergone increased sophistication with the release of three competing systems, which offer improved yields over manual cone lines, as well as reduced worker fatigue and injury. The Stork FHF-XB, launched at the VIV Exhibition in Holland during October 2003 and subsequently unveiled at the 2004 IPE, has a production rate of 3,000-front-halves-per-hour. It can accommodate a live-weight range from 3.5- to-8.5 pounds. Raw material infeed comprises front halves with wings, and the modular design allows a range of end products including fillets with and without skin, inner and outer fillets, wing drummettes, or breast butterflies. Modules are capable of deskinning, removal of the wishbone, and portioning of fillets with high yield.
Meyn introduced the Rapid HQ breast deboner and filleting system capable of processing 6,000-units-an-hour. Input can comprise off-line aged front halves or raw material derived from an on-line system incorporating electrical stimulation with either water or air chilling. Meyn claims low wastage and minimal bone residue. End products from the rapid HQ module include butterflies with or without tenders, fillets, tenders, breast skin, and wishbones with meat residue.
Sizing and weighing
Portion weighing and sizing is an important marketing consideration for many integrators supplying both institutional and domestic market segments. The Scanvaegt DreamBatcher™ applying UPT™ (ultra precision technology) can sort portions at the rate of 360-per-minute, and it can distribute to trays in accordance with predetermined weight and number of pieces with negligible give-away, the company relays. This new product complements the existing Scanvaegt autoportioning module capable of distributing a specific product to trays with precise accuracy according to predetermined weight. The DreamBatcher™ module is the core component of an entire installation extending from infeed of breast and leg components through to labeling, weighing, and registration.
Bizerba launched the GLM-1 Series, Weighing-Pricing-Labeling system, available in three models ranging in capacity from 70- to 150-packages-a-minute. The entire system is modular in configuration and can be expanded. A variety of installations are possible with the labeler either above or below the weighing belt. Infinite options provide for multiple labeling including stamping, rotational applications, and barcoding. The Bizerba CWM 6,000 and10,000 model Checkweighers can assign product to up to five bins with predetermined weight. The installations are based on the principle of “trust is good, control is better” as expressed by Ines Loeffler of Bizerba. The Checkweigher can process 150-packs-per-minute.
Baader-Johnson has combined the new Model BA 1502 AccuFeed and the BA 1900 sizing and batching module to develop an integrated line. These two units can be operated with a skinner or front-half filleter, or they can be combined with a CanPolar inspection system involving both vision and X-ray technology. These units have been developed with standard electronic components, facilitating both maintenance and parts inventory, relays Andy Miller, president of Baader-Johnson.
Gainco Inc. introduced the Infinity programmable weight indicator line developed following its acquisition of Weight Systems South in March 2003. An initial task undertaken jointly by marketing and design personnel was to interview managers at 24 poultry plants and determine the features most desired in weighing systems. Water damage was the major problem identified, in addition to damage to keypads and deficiencies in durability. The Infinity range was developed to address these issues and incorporates permanently sealed electronics, an indestructible keypad, bright display screens, and oversized buttons.
FMC Food Tech, a subsidiary of Frigoscandia Equipment, introduced the M-series GyroCompact® spiral freezer. Improvements include a simplified take-up belt to minimize tension, prolonging operating life and facilitating cleaning. The floor of the system is fabricated from seamless stainless steel. Payload has been increased by approximately 30 percent using the FRIGoBelt™ conveyor, which allows vertical airflow through the belt mesh. The range of M-series spiral freezers is compatible with the FMC Link™ process analysis system. This option records and retrieves data on belt speed and the operating characteristics of further-processing modules including formers, fryers, and ovens, and it can report either historically or in a real time format.
Packaging represents the interface between product and consumer. Cryovac/Sealed Air Corp. recognized the need to provide labor saving products, and highly efficient films and packaging material to preserve quality and appearance from the manufacturer through to point-of-sale. A polyolefin film, SES340, was introduced for tray packs. This material was developed to obviate leakage from packages and to prevent condensation where there is intimate contact between the inner surface of the film and moist product. To enhance appearance and food safety, Cryovac combined a polystyrene tray with the super-absorbent PL5 pad for lidded formats. The pad is totally sealed to prevent shedding of absorbent. Processors are now using this application for ground poultry and marinated whole-muscle products to achieve prolonged shelf incorporating modified atmosphere packaging.
Cryovac also released its FC-805 heat-sealed bag for whole carcasses. This system replaces conventional polybags with metal clips. The package is leak-proof, contributing to enhanced hygiene in the display cooler and prevents cross-contamination from seepage onto checkout belts and after purchase. The vertical 2070 non-vacuum, heat-sealing machine is designed to pack leg quarters, and it offers potential saving in labor and reduced leakage. NP
Dr. Simon M. Shane is an Emeritus Professor of the Department of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University. Shane serves as an adjunct professor in the department of Poultry Science, North Carolina State University.  
Technology suppliers in this article include:
• Baader-Johnson, phone (913) 621-3366 or (800) 228-3434, fax (913) 621-1729, e-mail, or visit
• Bizerba USA Inc., phone (732) 819-0121, fax (732) 819-0429, e-mail, or visit
• Cryovac/Sealed Air Corp., phone (864) 433-2000 or (800) 845-3456, fax (864) 433-2134, e-mail, or visit
• FMC Food Tech, a subsidiary of Frigoscandia Equipment, phone (559)661-3200 or (800) 835-3230, fax (559) 661-3156,e-mail, or visit
• Gainco Inc., phone (770) 534-0703, fax (770) 534-1865, e-mail info@, or visit
• Linco Food Systems Inc., phone (770) 844-8000, fax (770) 844-7900, e-mail, or visit
• Meyn Poultry Processing L.L.C., phone (770) 967-0532 or (888) 881-MEYN, fax (770) 967-1318, e-mail, or visit
• Simmons Engineering Co., phone (770) 445-6085, or fax (770) 443-9058
• Scanvaegt, US Inc., phone (770)536-3495 or (866) 365-0724, fax (770) 536-9578, e-mail, or visit
• Stork Gamco Inc., phone (770) 532-7041, fax (770) 532-5672, e-mail, or visit
• Yara International (joint venture between Stork PMT BV and Norsk Hydro),