Cargill’s efficient chicken chiller goes live

Cargill has officially opened its Hereford chiller, marking a milestone in a three-year, £35M investment programme that has seen a host of other site enhancements.

“This investment is in response to consumer demand, but is also increasing our production while at the same time mitigating our effect on the environment,” Pilar Cruz, director of Cargill Meats Europe, told Meat Trades Journal.

The chiller enables the company to chill birds just culled down from a temperature of between 34-35 degrees Celsius to just above freezing more efficiently than previously.

Adrian Penning, operations manager for the Hereford site, told visitors last week: “The old chiller only got them down to 3.5 degrees Celsius.” As a result, the upgraded facility, which houses two 5km-long chains of birds, slowed down spoilage and improved the shelf-life of products, he claimed.

In addition, in tandem with a swift transition from culling to chilling, the chiller allowed for an improved maturation process by slowing down rigor mortis, Penning said. “It’s like a butcher’s cold store. The temperature is around zero and the bird’s muscles relax quicker so you can debone them easier.

“After the de-feathering process we plan to use electro-stimulation to massage and relax the birds’ muscles before we eviscerate them, then we will be able to debone them straight from the chiller. So much of food safety is about core temperature and speed of processing.”

Batches of the birds enter the chiller 35 minutes after being killed, are cooled for roughly two and three quarter hours, then deboned in about 20 minutes. That means total preparation time for customers is about four and a half hours, assuming no further customer requirements apply.

Cargill’s two chicken factories in Hereford and Newent in Gloucestershire now have the capacity to process 2M birds a week and Penning said he anticipated further investment to increase that capability.

Cargill announced the start of its £35M UK investment programme in November 2013. Since then, aside from the chiller, other improvements at Hereford have included the introduction of controlled atmosphere stunning, upgraded bird reception facilities, robotic packing using a Marel FlexPicker, and automated butchery and deboning.

The company employs 3,000 people in the UK, of which roughly 2,000 work at Hereford.

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