Last summer, I was fortunate to spend about a month working in a large-scale beef packing plant. I had the opportunity to experience and see almost every step in the process that takes live cattle and turns them into the steaks and hamburgers that I like to have on my plate. I have grown up around cattle for my entire life and experienced every phase from cow-calf to loading fat cattle on the truck for the packer, but didn’t really know what happened after that. It was awesome to be able to gain a little bit of perspective! Because not very many of us have the chance to hang out in a packing plant, I would love to share a few of the things that I learned.
Animals are treated humanely.
Considering that the purpose of a slaughterhouse is to end the life of an animal, you’d think that they wouldn’t care about them, right? WRONG. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Aside from the fact that packinghouses are regulated by several laws that call for the humane treatment of animals, the plant and its employees always went above and beyond. Cattle that are well taken care of and relaxed will handle better and produce a better product—plus the employees know that it’s simply the right thing to do. Cattle are kept cool with water sprinklers and there are very specific guidelines for how they are handled (no electric prods, etc.), plus the plant keeps cameras on animal handling facilities so they can keep an eye on those who are in contact with the animals. I LOVE animals and was thoroughly impressed with the way they were cared for at the plant.
Great care is taken to ensure that the end product is high-quality and safe.
The plant themselves employee people whose sole job is Quality Control and the USDA employees people who work in the plant to ensure compliance and safety. If a carcass was deemed unworthy of entering the food supply, it was condemned. If there was every anything wrong with a carcass like something got on it or there was a question, it was always pulled aside until the problem was solved. In the time I was there, I never saw anything questionable. The meat was constantly being examined, re-examined, and then examined again before it progressed down the line.
Employees that work in these facilities are incredibly skilled and intelligent.
In the plant where I worked, the carcasses never stopped moving on the conveyor-type chain they hung from. Workers along the chain have to think fast and know what they’re doing in order to safely and efficiently disassemble the carcass into the cuts of meat that we like to buy in the grocery store. They are good at their job—and with sharp knives and lots of beef money on the line, they have to be.
These types of facilities are incredibly clean.
To be honest with you, I had no idea what to expect when I first stepped foot into the plant. Taking into account what the function of the plant is, I found it to be incredibly clean and well kept. There are several employees whose job on the floor is to constantly be cleaning with hoses, brooms, and buckets. The plant also closed down for an entire shift each day and dedicated it to cleaning. Rest assured that your meat is being produced in clean facilities!
These are just a few nuggets of the knowledge I was able to gain. Working in a packinghouse is truly one of the most eye-opening and important experiences that I have ever had as a young person in agriculture. I left with a greater appreciation of all of the work that goes into producing meat and an assurance that the meat we are getting is high-quality, safe, and produced in the right way.
Questions? Comment—I’d love to give you a few answers.
For more information on Tyson and their practices, click here.
For more information about National Beef, click here.
For more information about JBS, click here.
For a video tour of a beef plant, click here.
For a video tour of a pork plant, click here.
For a video tour of a turkey plant, click here.