Poultry processing is a massively important industry for worldwide food production. Industrial-scale slaughter and further processing of bird meat using industrial food machinery is one of the largest used food machinery sectors we regularly deal with at Boyd International.
In this article, let's delve into the poultry processing industry and poultry processing equipment we currently have available for purchase.
What is Poultry processing?
Simply put, poultry processing is the processing of meat sourced from birds such as chickens and turkeys for human consumption. Poultry is a fantastic source of animal protein and is the primary factor for mass production in our food chain.
The processing of poultry is an important part of food production to meet the high demand for processed chicken meat, read on to find out more.
When birds are ready for harvesting from the chicken farms, often called broiler growing or rearing farms, they are normally not fed or watered for a period of time before slaughter. The birds will entirely empty their digestive systems, reducing issues related to contamination/urine/faeces during processing.
Birds are transported at night via special transport cages and trucks. Transporting in the dark help keeps the birds calm, and sometimes red lights are used as birds are not alarmed by this colour.
Keeping the birds calm and stress-free is important for creating a high-quality final product.
In the past, we have sold many Anglia Autoflow EasyLoad modules/baskets/drawers and trays, as well as Stork ATLAS and Stork GP; Linco UniLoad and LincoLoad: and Meyn Grande drawer and basic crate systems for easy transport of chickens, turkeys and ducks.
Stunning & Killing
The birds are placed in shackles to begin the process of stunning. Usually, their heads are dipped in a water bath that has a live electric current running through it. The stunned bird is not killed but rendered unconscious.
Carbon dioxide can be used as an alternative to electric stunning, and can even be used to kill the birds too. A 40% concentration of the gas is enough to render the birds unconscious and a further increase will end the bird's life.
Once stunned, birds can be killed individually by slaughter staff, or as part of the automated process via a rotary knife that cuts through the major blood vessels in the neck. This process is closely monitored, and any bird not humanely killed in the first pass will quickly be seen by slaughtering staff in the bleed area.
The bleeding process removes blood from the bird and bleed time is dependent on bird size and species. The slaughtered bird must be adequately bled, as any bird still looking very red will be discarded from the production line.
Scalding / Feather removal
The next phase in the process is to remove feathers from each bird by submerging them in hot water to soften the skin. The temperature of the scalding tanks depends on the final product required, ie yellow coloured skin, or white.
Feather picking machines with "rubber fingers", called pluckers or de-feathering machines, beat the feathers from the carcasses, and different sets of fingers remove feathers from different areas.
Ducks and geese can be more troublesome to defeather and a wax dipping process can be used to remove stubborn feathers. The duck or goose is emerged in melted wax and is left to harden, when peeled it also removes the feathers. Although this is a useful process it normally requires the bird to be waxed twice to ensure all feathers are removed adding more time to the production line.
As a by-product, duck and geese feathers are often collected for use in high-quality pillows and duvets. Blood and other feathers can also be used to create blood meal and feather meal for use in fish food and as fertiliser.
Head and feet removal
Continuing along the processing line, the birds are passed through a channel that separates the head from the carcass.
Feet are removed using a rotary knife, usually around the hock of the leg near where the leg meets the feathers. The feet can be retained for resale in Asian and African countries where they are popular snack food. Chicken feet and chicken paws are a valuable fifth quarter by-product of chicken slaughter.
Clean removal of the internal organs is paramount in ensuring quality products. This can be done by hand by line butchers/staff, or automated on the production line. Automated lines can process up to 250 birds per minute; or 15,000 birds per hour (bph) and can offer significant productivity savings.
Most common line speeds we sell are:
We do also buy and sell smaller lines for up to 4,000 bph.
The parts removed from the carcass are sorted into edible and inedible containers, and the items to be discarded are sprayed with blue dye to ensure they do not end up with edibles.
Hearts, gizzards, livers, necks and feet are retained and used for other products and are often consumed by humans too directly, livers are generally made into Pâté.
We buy and sell equipment by leading manufacturers of poultry processing equipment such as Meyn, Stork, Marel, Foodmate, Systemate, Baader, Linco, Bayle, PMJ, Anglia Autoflow, GEA, Frigoscandia and JBT.
What are the most popular cuts of chicken?
Further processing, portioning and deboning can occur from here, the main cuts in a chicken are:
Breast - the most popular cut and considered to be the best part of the chicken. These can be purchased whole, presliced, or cut into portions. It can also be purchased with or without skin.
Wings - the cheapest cut but also very popular.
Drumsticks - The equivalent of a shin, these normally come on the bone and are a cheap easy meal and a favourite for barbequing.
Thighs - often overlooked for the more popular breast, thighs might be even tastier and juicier than breast meat. These can be purchased with or without bone and skin on or off. Thigh meat works well in curries and kebabs.
Legs - Instead of dividing the thighs and drumsticks, the leg is kept whole in its entirety. Poultry cooked on the bone has much more flavour, especially when used in a stew.
Whole chicken - the whole processed chicken can be purchased raw ready to be cooked then consumed.
The extraction of remaining carcass meat
Although the backs, necks and bones can be discarded or sent for use in other processes/exported, there is actually a great deal of meat to be extracted from these remains.
Mechanically recovered meat machinery will recover every last scrap of meat from a carcass. A mechanical deboner will press bones against a special screen and all the soft meat will pass through it, but the bones will remain.
The meat produced from this process is used in lower quality products. It is mixed with herbs and spices and other flavourings to make a thick paste, and is then formed into shapes, ie low quality chicken nuggets... or made into frankfurter style hot dog sausages.
The leading types of soft separators or mincers are Baader, SEPAmatic, AM2C, Protecon, Lima and Prince.
Post washing, the carcasses are either chilled or frozen. If chilled it is through one of two processes:
1. Water chilling
This is the preferred process in North America. The carcasses are first prechilled using a flow of cold water and then moved into a larger tank, specially designed to chill the carcasses over a set time period. Water chilling is very water-intensive but very effective.
Carcasses chilled in water, also gain more mass as water is absorbed into them. There are limits on how much water absorption is allowed for each bird.
2. Air chilling
Air chilling is preferred in Europe and most of the world. The birds are passed through areas with a rapid cold airflow. Air chilling is great for preventing cross-contamination between birds but isn't as thorough as water chilling. Dehydration can also lead to weight loss in the birds.
Carcasses are normally shipped at around -18 °C. Birds like turkey are more likely to be sold frozen, but chicken is normally sold fresh and unfrozen, depending on market demand.
Although the product at this stage is now viable for public sale, it need not be the end of its journey in the factory. Raw poultry products can be turned into further processed or added-value products, either raw or cooked, such as chicken nuggets, battered chicken strips or even a full ready meal.
Breading, battering, frying
Different batters and bread coverings have been developed over the years to suit different tastes, ie beer batter or cajun spice mix. The poultry meat can be marinated, automatically floured, breaded/battered on the production line and then deep-fried and sometimes fully cooked in ovens, grills and teflon cookers. The finished products can then be flash-frozen for packing and distribution.
These machines can tumble or massage meat, combined with flavourings, and brine which helps texture, yield and flavour profile.
Adding a smokey taste can be a popular option in western countries. Birds will often be soaked in a saltwater solution containing flavourings, dried, and then smoked either through a real process of burning wood shavings, or adding an artificial smoked flavour.
Although chicken and turkey are the most popular bird, meats from game birds and other birds such as pigeons, quails, pheasants, geese, ostriches and in particular duck are also highly sought after.
The part we eat is the skeletal muscle which as mentioned before is an excellent source of protein, but also fat and vitamins such as biotin, niacin, riboflavin, selenium, pantothenic acid, B6, B12, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc. Poultry meat is often seen as a healthier alternative to red meat.
Bones are normally not discarded and can be used to create bone broth - an ideal base for many soups. Chicken backs are not usually sold in the western market, but find a place in foreign markets such as African countries.
Poultry processing equipment
There are a wide variety of machines used when processing poultry.
Live bird transport and reception
Poultry defeathering equipment
Kill line equipment
Poultry pre-chill equipment
Weight and grading equipment
Cut up and portioning
Poultry packing equipment
What poultry processing equipment can Boyd International offer at the moment?
We currently have these items available:
Please get in touch with your requirements, we often sell complete poultry processing factories offering significant savings on your own start-up costs.
We hope this article has been of some use to you and you have found out more about the poultry processing industry. Boyd International have poultry processing equipment for all your requirements and can help your business thrive. Get in touch to see how we can help you.
Written: 6th of April 2022