Thanks to technology and personnel training, the Gold Kist further-processing team in Boaz, AL, prepares and cooks chicken to perfection.
More than 100 years ago, the Alabama town of Boaz derived its name from a biblical character. Nestled among gently rolling creeks and the peaceful Tennessee River, Boaz retains a connection to the past with its lush farmland where cotton once reigned. It is an ideal setting for breeding, feeding, and raising chickens.
Gold Kist Inc., until recently a privately held chicken cooperative business, operates three chicken processing facilities in Boaz and nearby Guntersville. The Boaz further-processing plant started with a single cooking line producing ready-to-cook nuggets for a fast-food chain customer. Four years later in 1989 a second line increased production. Thanks to a $30-million expansion project in 2000, two additional lines increased capacity enabling the plant to handle 500,000 birds a week. They are earmarked for further-processed products developed with marinades, breading, and then fully cooked. Space for a fifth line is available at the facility where food safety is a high priority. To control moisture, the plant operates with fully seamed, welded ovens and freezers, for example. “It cost more to do this, but it is worth the benefits,” Jiminez explains. “It is great to be able to spend money for these things, but the quality of our people is what makes everything work.”
The major benefits come from well-trained employees. “We intend to continue focusing on technology, but employees make the difference, and they need the ability to make independent decisions,” he concludes.
In the plant, production for chicken nuggets – using birds cleaned and processed at an adjoining fresh chicken plant – begins with weighed portions of boneless white meat, dark ground meat, and binder. The mixture travels to a tank containing a mix of spices for up to 10 minutes of blending followed by a cooling phase. The meat blend at 28°F goes to an automatic feed vat that pushes the product through a forming machine to stamp the meat into uneven shapes. Nuggets next travel by conveyor to a pre-dusting machine for an application of a thin, uniform layer of flour to improve breading texture. A curtain of non-leavened batter coats tops and sides as the conveyor moves the nuggets through a batter puddle to ensure even coating. Batter temperature and viscosity undergo frequent checks. Seasoned breading covers nuggets as the bottom travels through a shallow breading bed. A vibratory conveyor facilitates the release of excess coating. The cooking process includes hot oil frying to partial doneness, flash frying, or oil set followed by baking in an oven. Plastic-line boxes filled with frozen nuggets pass through metal detection before the palletizing phase followed by the trip to a holding freezer for distribution.
Through this entire process, employees are guided by the company’s Endeavor-for-Excellence program in adjusting the process and equipment as needed to ensure that finished product meets high-quality standards and precise product specifications of customers.