Welcome to the second instalment of our three-part series, delving into the livestock and meat supply chain. In our previous segment, we explored the journey of livestock from their birth to their arrival at the processing plant. Today, we’ll be focusing on the intricate processes that take place within the walls of the processing plant, where livestock are transformed into the packaged meat products that grace our dining tables. This phase is a harmonious blend of age-old practices and cutting-edge technology, ensuring that the meat we consume meets the highest standards of quality and safety. Join us as we walk through the meticulous steps, from the moment livestock are received at the plant to when the packaged meat is ready for storage and shipment.
The transformation of livestock into consumable meat products is a meticulous process that combines traditional methods with modern technology. Each stage is crucial, ensuring that the meat reaching consumers is of the highest quality and safety standards.
1. Receiving Livestock
Upon arrival at the processing plant, livestock are directed into holding pens. These pens are designed to minimise stress, with adequate space, shelter, and access to water. Proper livestock management is essential to ensure animal welfare, streamline the flow of livestock to the slaughter floor, and maintain accurate records for traceability.
2. The Slaughter Floor
The humane treatment of animals is of utmost importance at this stage. The process begins with the Slaughter Floor, where livestock are first stunned to render them unconscious and insensible to pain, followed by a swift end through the severing of major blood vessels.
Next comes Deskinning, where carcasses are skinned or plucked to remove feathers in the case of poultry. This prepares the meat for further processing and ensures that only the high-quality parts remain, although parts like hides and skins are sold just like meat.
The Removal of Organs follows, a critical step not just for meat preparation but also for health checks. During this evisceration process, organs are carefully removed and inspected. This health check ensures that the animal was free from diseases, guaranteeing the safety of the meat.
Lastly, the carcass undergoes Grading. Carcase grading evaluates the meat based on various factors like fat content, muscle structure, and overall quality. This grading system ensures consistency in the meat products and provides valuable feedback for farmers and processors alike.
3. Chiller Management
Once prepared, carcasses are moved to chillers, specialised temperature-controlled rooms that play a pivotal role in meat preservation. The order in which meat is placed inside and later retrieved is crucial. This systematic arrangement ensures that each carcass receives consistent cooling, optimising it for the subsequent deboning process.
Rapid cooling is not just about preservation; it’s also about quality. By quickly bringing down the temperature, the meat retains its freshness, texture, and flavour. This rapid cooling also prepares the meat for deboning, making the meat easier to handle and ensuring precision in cuts.
However, this cooling process presents its challenges, notably shrinkage in weight. As the meat loses moisture, it naturally becomes lighter. To address this, processors often employ techniques to minimise moisture loss, such as optimising airflow and humidity within the chiller and lightly spraying the carcasses to replace the lost moisture. Accurate weighing systems before and after chilling help in tracking this weight loss or weight gain from spraying, ensuring transparency in the product’s final weight.
Automation has become an invaluable ally in chiller management. Automated systems monitor and adjust temperatures, ensuring optimal conditions. They can also track the duration each carcass spends in the chiller, ensuring that meat is neither under-cooled nor left too long, which could further exacerbate weight loss.
4. The Boning Room:
The boning room is where the carcass undergoes further refinement, transforming it into the familiar cuts of meat that consumers purchase.
Firstly, Boners take the lead, skilled professionals who separate the meat from the bone, producing large, primary sections of the carcass. Their expertise ensures that the maximum amount of meat is retained while removing the bone.
Following this, Cutters step in. These individuals further refine the large sections into specific cuts like steaks, chops, and roasts. Their precision ensures consistency in size and quality for each cut.
Modern Boning Room Technologies have revolutionised this process. Chemical lean machines determine the meat’s fat content, ensuring each cut meets specific quality standards. X-ray machines, on the other hand, provide a non-invasive method to inspect the meat, ensuring it’s free from foreign objects and bone fragments.
Lastly, the weighing and labelling process is of paramount importance. Each cut is weighed to ensure consistency and accurate manual labelling or automatic labelling provides essential information such as cut type, weight, and source. Proper labelling meets regulatory standards for local and export markets and instils consumer confidence about the product’s origin and quality.
Now, the product is ready to be stored and shipped.
The journey of livestock through a processing plant is a testament to the intricate balance of tradition, skill, and technology. Each stage, from the holding pens to the precise cuts in the boning room, plays a pivotal role in ensuring the meat’s quality and safety. As we transition into the next part of our series, we’ll delve deeper into the nuances of how meat is stored, ensuring its freshness and longevity. We’ll also explore the logistics behind shipping, understanding the challenges and solutions in transporting meat products. Finally, we’ll uncover the strategies behind selling this processed meat, navigating the diverse demands of both local markets and the vast, competitive landscape of international markets.