Meat packing

Meat packing software
Meat packing app makes quality control, receival, batch processing, high weight accountability with no unaccounted yield loss for processing all animal and fresh meat products. The premium meat packing software solution for modern meat packers and meat processors.

Meat packing software solution

Complete meat packing and meat processing business management. The app manages meat deliveries, batch processing and meat packing, sales and distribution. Maintain high levels of traceability during the meat packing process.

[Meat Packing (Australian) edition of farmsoft - download brochure here]

Meat packing process: this is a sample process used by some of our meat packing clients in the USA and Australia, we will tailor the meat packing process in the app to match your specific meat packing requirements:

• Meat Sales Orders from customers are recorded in farmsoft.  Export:  Usually the Shipping container number (for meat export) is known well before meat packing, and can be entered onto the customer’s meat order and will carry through to the packed meat shipping process.

• PO’s issued for all raw materials (unprocessed animals) from farmsoft (animal and packaging supplies)

• Incoming meat deliveries reference the PO for rapid recording:

o A delivery receipt is printed / emailed to farmer/supplier immediately on delivery

o Each animal unit is weighed, associated to its animal reference ID/ traceability code, and assigned an inventory number by farmsoft to maximize meat traceability throughout the meat packing process

• Quality control

o Generic QC test performed on carcasses delivered.

o Reject / Accept carcass processes

• Meat Production & packing planning

o Meat Packing / Production manager uses Sales dashboard & Projections & Orders to view required production

o Batches are created and assigned to teams in specific meat cutting rooms and lines

o Alert is sent to team manager for new meat processing batches that associate the orders with the specific meat cuts that are required.

o Carcass is prepared, and packaged, and labelled with farmsoft labels (each unit is weighed)

o Fresh meat inventory created from this animal is associated to the batch which traces back to the specific carcass and supplier.

• Post meat packing QC

o QC check on packed meat product

• Logistics management for shipping packed meat:

o Shipping manager uses Logistic dashboard to group meat orders onto single trucks and set the loading order of packed meat for that truck

o Associate Transport company, truck/trailer registration

o Set shipping container info if not already on customers order

• Picking orders

o Users are told the location of specific/exact packed meat inventory that should be picked for each order

o Exporting meat products:  if these details were not already on the original order, they are recorded in this process:  Container number, Analog temp recorder, Digital temp recorder, seal number

o Documents (BOL, invoice, and export documents) generated and sent to various parties by admin or shipping manager.

• Pre shipping QC

o Depending on domestic/export, pre-shipping packed meat QC is performed

o Photos of packed container / truck are stored for insurance / quality purposes

• Admin

o PO’s (AP) and Invoices (AR) are exported and imported into clients Xero, Quickbooks, and other apps.

We will interview your team to custom design the meat packing & meat processing solution for your business.

Here's how your meat packing management project will work:

  • Interview with a solution consultant so we can understand how your meat packing business operates
  • We then prepare your meat packing forms and documents to be produced by the app and adjust special meat packing reporting tools you may need
  • A quick meeting to show you the settings in your app, and how to maintain them yourself in the future if you sell new meat products for example. We will have entered almost all of your settings for you.
  • Your consultant will then present you with proposed operational processes for your meat packing & processing processing business. This may happen a few times because we will respond to your feedback.
  • Your approved operational processes for your meat packing business will then be deployed one by one into your live business. We provide simple, written instructions you can show each team member so they don't need to remember anything or write anything down.
  • Review! Once you deploy the processes, we can have another review to see if there are any tweaks that would help improve your meat packing & handling processes.

The meat packing solution requires a requires a Precision training package, click here to order one now or talk to one of our consultants about your requirements.

What Is Meatpacking?

Meatpacking refers to the process of turning livestock into meat, including slaughter, processing, packaging and distribution. These days, the top meatpacking companies do not just produce meat, they also control how the animals are raised long before slaughter: in the chicken industry, companies oversee the process from chick genetics through supermarket packaging; in the beef industry, cattle come under the control of the big meatpackers four to six months before slaughter.

The ownership of all parts of the supply chain is called vertical integration. It gives integrators – the companies who have integrated all the different parts under one umbrella – control over price and quality; and the economies of scale they have achieved have helped to drive down the consumer prices of meat. Vertical integration has also allowed the meat industry to become highly consolidated, controlled by just a few companies: As of 2015, the four largest companies in each sector controlled 85 percent of the beef packing industry, 66 percent of pork packing, and 51 percent of broiler chicken processing. 1 The slaughter and packing plants these few companies run operate on a tremendous scale: in 2015, 85 percent of beef cattle slaughtered took place in just 30 US slaughter facilities (of the almost 650), with more than half slaughtered in 13 plants. These top 13 plants process more than one million animals per year, which is approximately 2,800 cattle/day, 365 days/year. 2

The Complicated History of Meatpacking

The history of the meatpacking industry closely traces the history of corporate power and consolidation in the US. Upton Sinclair’s famous 1906 exposé, The Jungle, revealed the horrific conditions of Chicago’s meatpacking plants at the turn of the last century, laying blame on the consolidated power of the packing companies. The novel helped to catalyze changes in the industry, including the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, which led to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration.

In the same period, antitrust laws aimed the stranglehold of big business in all sectors broke up most powerful players of the meat cartel. 3 Large-scale unionizing, along with the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, improved wages and working conditions at meatpacking plants; by the middle of the twentieth century, meatpacking jobs were considered skilled labor, and workers could expect to rise to the middle class. This period of opportunity didn’t last long, however, as companies began to move the packing facilities out of cities into rural areas, to be closer to the animal stock and to have more control over their workers. Transition to a production line, where workers performed the same task repeatedly, meant unskilled workers could be hired at lower wages. Consolidation began to rise again, such that today meatpacking is one of the most concentrated sectors of the economy; with consolidation, conditions at plants have worsened severely.


Meat packing software
Meat packing software


Workers in Slaughterhouses

The meatpacking industry, as a 2015 report by Oxfam America on poultry workers put it, “churns out a lot of chicken, but it also churns through a lot of human beings.” Oxfam estimates that from every dollar spent on a McDonald’s Chicken McNugget, just two cents goes to compensate the processing labor. 4 Conditions are generally the worst at poultry plants, which tend to have the least union representation. Some beef and pork slaughter plants are still unionized, and, according to United Food and Commercial Workers, union meatpackers make 15 percent higher wages than non-union.

The costs of working in slaughterhouses are not offset by the low pay; and worse, many workers sacrifice their bodies on the production line. With line speeds twice as fast as forty years ago, the stress of repetitive cutting motions can lead to serious injury. A 2013 Southern Poverty Law Center report found that nearly 75 percent of poultry workers described having some type of significant work-related injury or illness. 5 6 The US General Accounting Office (GAO) found in 2016 that while injury rates for meat and poultry processing workers have declined in recent years, they are (at 5.7 percent) still higher than in manufacturing, overall. 7 According to the Department of Labor, the incidence of occupational illness reported in the poultry industry is more than six times the average for all US industries. 8

Injuries from the cutting equipment, from falls on slippery floors and from exposure to chemicals and pathogens are common. Musculoskeletal disorders — injuries to the nerves, tendons and muscles — are especially prevalent. For example, the incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome in poultry processing is seven times higher than the national average. On a chicken processing line, a worker can repeat the same motion as many as 20,000 times in a day, which can lead to permanent damage in the hands, arms, shoulders or back. In some slaughterhouses, workers are not allowed regular bathroom breaks, which can lead to severe health consequences, as well.

Many workers in slaughterhouses are immigrants and have been threatened with deportation or firing if they speak up about unsafe working conditions, are injured on the job, seek medical treatment outside the company or complain about work-related health issues. 9

Food Safety

In 2015, USDA issued 150 recalls of contaminated meat products, covering 21.1 million pounds, including 5.1 million pounds for contamination by Listeria, Salmonella, and various forms of E. coli. 10 Meat and poultry were responsible for 2.1 million illnesses in the US in a ten-year period examined by Centers for Disease Control researchers — 22 percent of all foodborne illness. In 2014, Wolverine Packing Company recalled approximately 1.8 million pounds of ground beef products after 12 people were infected with an outbreak E. coli strains in four states. That same year, Tyson Foods recalled 33,840 pounds of mechanically separated chicken parts, some of which had infected nine people in a correctional facility in Tennessee with Salmonella. Baseline studies by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service found that 26.3 percent of raw chicken parts in the US tested positive for Salmonella and 21.4 percent for Campylobacter, two harmful bacteria. 11

Bacteria can enter the food supply if proper care is not taken in slaughter and processing. Fecal matter from animal intestines or animal hides can spread to tables, tools or to the meat itself. The high speeds of production lines in many processing plants, however, make it difficult for workers to take the necessary care to prevent contamination.

While rates of documented contamination are relatively low given the scale of total annual US meat production (48.5 billion pounds red meat and 40.5 billion pounds chilled and frozen chicken), even one instance of death caused by bacteria in the food supply is too many. Along with production line speeds, the centralization of slaughter and processing facilities is a major culprit in contamination outbreaks. Meat processed in one facility may end up in supermarkets or restaurants all over the country, making it difficult to trace the origin of the outbreak, and even harder to contain.

Federal Meatpacking Plant Regulations

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates the safety of meat and poultry. Meat sold in the US carries a USDA “Inspected and Passed” seal proving that government inspectors have verified only the effectiveness of the processor’s food safety systems, through the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Program (HACCP), not, however, that they have inspected every piece of meat. 12

The HACCP system, introduced in 1996, modernized meat inspection and introduced testing for some bacteria that make people sick. It was a major advance; but critics, including internal government oversight agencies, point to significant shortcomings. Audits of the system by the Office of the Inspector General and Government Accountability Office have repeatedly shown that meatpacking plants fail to properly identify potential hazards (including commonly tested pathogens like shiga-toxin producing E. coli and Salmonella) in their HACCP plans, and that FSIS has no procedure in place for approval of plants’ plans; this enables recurring violations of the protocol, with little consequence or corrective action, as well as other problems. 13 The HACCP system allows many inspection tasks to be carried out by the meat companies themselves, and actually reduces the involvement of USDA inspectors. 14 Finally, the system does not allow USDA to shut down a meatpacking plant that, through testing, is shown to have high levels of bacterial contamination in its products. 15 As a result of the landmark case Supreme Beef vs USDA, the agency cannot rely on the results of its testing alone to determine whether a meat processing facility is unsanitary and therefore also cannot on its own shut violators down. 16

HACCP also impacts worker safety. A USDA rule, Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection, finalized in 2014, had initially proposed an increase in production line speed from 140 to 175 birds per minute. The increase was rejected in the final rule, but there has been no subsequent rulemaking by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to further protect meat or poultry workers. According to a Southern Poverty Law Center’s report, OSHA “has no set of mandatory guidelines tailored to protect poultry processing workers. Workers cannot bring a lawsuit to prevent hazardous working conditions or even to respond to an employer’s retaliation, if they complain about safety hazards or other abusive working conditions.”

Corporate Meatpacking

Although consumer demand for local, sustainably-produced meats is growing, satisfying this demand is no easy task, in large part because decades of consolidation has wiped out the infrastructure needed to produce and market meat products from small farms. Small slaughter and processing operations have been closing across the country, because of industry consolidation, low profit margins, the complexities of federal regulation and the challenges of disposing of slaughter byproducts. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of slaughterhouses in the US declined by 15 percent. 17 The lack of smaller processing facilities poses a challenge (both logistical and financial) for small farmers, and it can be very hard for them to schedule an appointment in the few-day window when their animals are, for example, at peak condition; without alternatives, they have no choice but to pay the higher prices they are charged. Many small farmers point to processing costs as one of their biggest expenses.

Fortunately, there are many sustainable farmers and ranchers throughout the US that care about where their animals are processed – and in some areas, independent slaughterhouses and butchering facilities are slowly re-opening, including mobile slaughterhouses. The most successful of these efforts include an independent middleman or aggregator, who negotiates the relationship between farmer and buyer (a store, restaurant or institution) and coordinates the slaughter, processing and delivery of the meat. Because the aggregator is working with product from multiple farmers, it is easier for them to gain access to slaughter facilities and juggle buyers’ changing schedules than it is for a single farmer. For consumers, meat that goes through a local aggregator is often easier to find – it may be available in the supermarket or restaurants rather than just at a weekly farmers’ market, and it may be cheaper than buying direct from the farmer. The aggregator usually has a recognizable brand under which meat from all its farmers is sold. Firsthand Foods in North Carolina, Ranch Foods Direct in Colorado and Black River Meats in Vermont are a few thriving examples of this model; some of these are farmer cooperatives instead, such as Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative in Arkansas.

HACCP implementation: general principles

The classic approach to HACCP implementation is ineffective for controlling microbiological hazards in processes for raw meat production because knowledge of the microbiological effects of the individual operations in any process is generally lacking. Indeed, there is still often little or no knowledge of the microbiological effects of any of the processes performed at a packing plant. The microbiological methods which have been described in the previous section can be used to remedy that lack of knowledge. To do that, the stages of HACCP system construction must be expanded from seven to some 12 stages (Table 27-4).

Table 27-4. The actions required for constructing an effective HACCP system for controlling the microbiological contamination of meat during a meat packing plant process

1.Describe the process2.Establish consistent procedures for performance of the process3.Identify the microbiological characteristics of the process4.Establish the CCPsa5.Implement actions to improve hygienic performance at each CCP6.If appropriate, implement novel decontaminating operations7.Establish SOPsb for each operation8.Identify corrective actions for failure to maintain any SOP at a CCP9.Identify the microbiological characteristics of the improved process10.Establish microbiological criteria for process performance11.Establish a verification procedure12.Document the system

aCCP = critical control pointbSOP = standard operating procedure

The activities which occur at any but small meat packing plants are too numerous to comprehend in detail if they are viewed as all being elements of a single production process. Therefore, it is necessary to divide the activities into discrete processes which can be investigated sequentially. Activities are divided into processes as seems convenient with regard to plant layout, procedures, products and management practices. The only provisions are (Gill et al., 1996b):


every activity that occurs in the plant must be placed in a process, and


no activity may be placed in more than one process.

With such limited requirements there is no reason why the list of processes should be the same for all plants. For example, the skinning, eviscerating and trimming, washing and otherwise cleaning of beef carcass could be viewed as three processes of (i) skinning, (ii) eviscerating, and (iii) carcass cleaning, or as a single carcass dressing process. Despite that, processes are likely to be similarly defined at many plants because of broadly similar arrangements for processing and management of activities at most plants (Table 27-5). When deciding the list of processes, the HACCP team should identify the initial and final operations of each, and their relationships to one another, to ensure that no operation is overlooked and that none is duplicated in different processes. Each process must then be examined separately, to determine its microbiological effects upon the product and to control the microbiological contamination of the product occurring during the process.

Meat decontamination and pathogen stress adaptation

J. Samelis, in Improving the Safety of Fresh Meat, 2005

Potential impact of decontamination on the microbial ecology of meat plants

Carcass decontamination with chemicals may also alter the microbial ecology of meat packing plants in addition to shifting the spoilage flora of treated meat. Indeed, the fluid run-off and aerosol dispersion resulting from application of acid sprays may collect on equipment surfaces, which come into contact with meat. Conditions created on such wet surfaces may provide an environment favorable for the colonization and proliferation of bacteria present on the washed carcasses, leading to possible attachment and biofilm formation. Bacterial pathogens that become suspended in such decontamination waste fluids or settle in associated biofilms may become stress-adapted, cross-protected, resistant and, eventually, more virulent (Samelis and Sofos, 2003). Research data collected under real or simulated plant conditions are still insufficient to draw clear conclusions on these potential safety risks associated with fresh meat environments.

We have recently used meat decontamination run-off waste fluids of different pH (acidic, acid-diluted or non-acid-water spray-washings) as a model system to evaluate responses of pathogens under conditions simulating those in meat plant environments (Samelis et al., 2001a,b,c, 2002a,b, 2003b, 2004a,b; Stopforth et al., 2002, 2003a,b). Washings were inoculated with selected strains, such as the acid-resistant meat outbreak E. coli O157:H7 strain ATCC 43895 (Benjamin and Datta, 1995), to monitor survival, growth and biofilm formation under refrigeration or abusive temperatures. It was found that E. coli O157:H7 had greater potential than L. monocytogenes and S. Typhimurium DT104 for survival in 2% organic acid meat washings, especially when acetic acid rather than lactic acid was used and the washings were kept at 4 °C compared to 10 °C (Samelis et al., 2001a). More specifically, E. coli O157:H7 strain ATCC 43895 could survive in 2% lactic acid (pH 2.3–2.5) or 2% acetic acid (pH 3.0–3.2) meat washings for 2–7 days at 10 and 4 °C, while Salmonella and L. monocytogenes always died off faster and were undetectable after 7 days under the same experimental conditions (Samelis et al., 2001a). A later study (Samelis et al., 2002a) confirmed that, similar to fresh meat (Berry and Cutter, 2000), acid adaptation by the glucose method enhanced survival of E. coli O157:H7 in acid-containing washings stored at 4 or 10 °C. Acid-adapted populations survived with minimal reductions for up to 14 days in 2% acetic acid washings or in 2% lactic or acetic acid washings mixed with water washings at ratios of 1/1, 1/9 or 1/99 [vol/vol] (Samelis et al., 2002a). Under all conditions tested, declines increased as the acid concentration in the washings and the storage temperature increased, and were more dramatic in lactic than in acetic acid washings. Mixing of acidic with water washings was done to obtain run-off waste fluids (washing mixtures) with a sublethal pH, ranging from approximately 2.5 to 5.0, as may be the case in meat plants (Samelis et al., 2002a).

In non-acid (water) washings at 4 and 10 °C, E. coli O157:H7 survived, but the low storage temperatures, the vigorous growth (> 108 CFU/ml after 2–4 days) of the natural flora and the low nutrient availability in the washings synergistically inhibited its growth (Samelis et al., 2001a, 2002a). Interestingly, non-adapted E. coli O157:H7 showed greater potential for survival and a tendency to grow in water washings, compared to acid-adapted populations at 10 °C, suggesting that acid adaptation negatively influenced the pathogen's ability to readapt upon a sudden shift from its culture broth of approximate pH 5.0 to the higher pH of 6.5–7.5 of the meat washings (Samelis et al., 2002a). When the storage temperature of the washings was increased to 15 °C, the overall behavior of E. coli O157:H7 within treatments was unchanged. However, the higher storage temperature accelerated pathogen death in acidic washings, while in non-acid (water) washings it enhanced pathogen growth by approximately 2 log cycles, irrespective of previous acid adaptation (Stopforth et al., 2003a). Acid-containing meat washings with a pH below 4.0 suppressed growth of the predominant Pseudomonas-like natural flora, while being selective for growth of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. This natural selection did not occur in acid-containing washings of pH ≥ 4.5, where the normal gram-negative flora could overcome the low acid stress and predominate, as they did in water washings (Samelis et al., 2002a, b).

Biofilm formation by L. monocytogenes and E. coli O157:H7 on stainless steel coupons immersed in fresh meat decontamination washings was also evaluated (Stopforth et al., 2002, 2003a). Cultures (107 cfu/ml) and coupons were exposed to washings without acid (water; approximate pH 7.0) or to acid-containing washings (lactic or acetic acid; pH range from 3.2–6.9) for 14 days at 15 °C. E. coli O157:H7 formed biofilms and remained detectable (> 1.3 log CFU/cm2) on stainless steel for up to 4 days in washings of pH 3.2 to 3.8, and persisted throughout storage in washings of pH 4.0–6.9. L. monocytogenes was unable to form detectable (< 1.3 log CFU/cm2) biofilms in acidic washings of pH 3.2–4.3; however, after 14 days of incubation in washings with a final pH of 4.4–6.9, the pathogen was able to attach at detectable levels (2.7–3.4 logs). In water meat washings, both pathogens formed biofilms of approximately 5.0 log CFU/cm2 (e.g., attachment was approximately 2 log cycles lower than pathogen populations in suspension), while the natural flora attached at 1–2 log cycles higher. Differences in biofilm formation between acid-adapted and non-adapted pathogens were not significant. The organic acid washings were selective for the growth of both lactic acid bacteria and yeasts, indicating that use of acids for carcass decontamination could modify the microbial ecology of processing plant environments (Stopforth et al., 2003a).

Meat Processing information

Market-leading software developed for the meat processing industry

Scheduling and controlling production, monitoring real-time performance, reviewing costs and margins. The everyday complexity faced by meat processors, whilst they ensure integrity is maintained across everything they produce.

But when margins are already slim in the meat industry, the choices they make for food processing software could be crucial to operational success.

The meat processing plant. carcasses of beef hang on hooks.

SI is renowned for our in-depth understanding of the meat processing sector, right down to the detail of planning and forecasting, cutting and boning, production and meeting customer expectations.

At SI, we’ve been producing world-class meat processing software, as part of our modular food ERP, to match the sectors’ needs for nearly three decades. Every day, we focus on finding solutions to meet your challenges through our people who’ve direct experience within the industry.

Whether it’s looking at how to improve the value chain, finding ways to reduce hanging stock and freezer costs, or reducing the opportunity to have to downgraded meat. SI’s clever meat processing software is helping our customers deliver efficiencies across their operations.

Struggling to manage carcass balance?

Developed to resolve the mystery of the “carcass balance” within red meat processing, our latest “Plan to Produce” and “Available to Sell” modules allow businesses to plan months ahead, whilst reacting in real-time to changing customer demands, raw material availability and key commercial challenges.

Our Plan to Produce and Available to Sell modular software have been developed with the most complex multi-site, vertically integrated meat processing businesses in mind. From kill, bone, retail pack through to value-added products operations.

We continually invest in product development for the meat processing industry. From abattoirs, carcass balance, boning and yield, through to retail pack and value-added products, we’ve developed applications for every operational process.

With SI’s modular food ERP at the heart of your meat processing operations:

  • Our skilled technicians will set up a solution to complement your current production. After all, if an ERP provider is expecting you to adapt your systems or processes to their system’s design, then the software is not a fit.
  • SI’s renowned food shop-floor data capture across your processes will ensure you always have full traceability.
  • Cost modelling software, that can even take into account the nuances of the cut-tree, projects your profitability. And our software helps you to understand which products you should produce, and even takes account of market fluctuations.
  • Define your KPIs and monitor against every stage of meat processing production. For example, our food software captures all the detail you need to monitor meat processing yield, giveaway and mass balance.
  • Read how pork processor Baird Food Services has made the most of SI’s controls and achieves >98.5% mass balance every day.
  • As your business grows and becomes more profitable, be assured that SI’s food ERP software can grow with it. When your operations are ready to step up to the next level of digital control, it’s straightforward to integrate our feature-rich modular food software.
  • Every business that processes meat strives for daily operational excellence and greater profitability.
  • SI’s modular food ERP, MES and sector software will connect every part of your operations – seamlessly.
“We wholeheartedly recommend SI. They understand our business, they understand our model, and they understand how the meat industry works. For us, it was an absolute no brainer that they should be our partner of choice.”DB Foods
Carcass management and every stage of meat processing can be managed with SI
Image of ribs of beef on shelves at catering butcher
image showing UK pork processing plant
image showing box of cut and trimmed pork at processing plant

While your business targets operational excellence, by implementing SI’s modular food ERP every part of your meat processing operations will be seamlessly connected. As many of our technicians have direct experience gained from working within the meat processing industry, we use this uniqueness to develop meat processing software that addresses the specific needs of the industry.

And, of course, we apply this knowledge to ensure that our food ERP software is compliant with and technical, legislative, regulatory and requirements for the meat industry.

Every business that processes meat strives for daily operational excellence and greater profitability.

SI’s modular food ERP, MES and sector software will connect every part of your operations – seamlessly.

Livestock slaughter procedures

The slaughter of livestock involves three distinct stages: preslaughter handling, stunning, and slaughtering. In the United States the humane treatment of animals during each of these stages is required by the Humane Slaughter Act.

basic slaughtering process; meat processing
basic slaughtering process; meat processingThe basic slaughtering process.Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Preslaughter handling

Preslaughter handling is a major concern to the livestock industry, especially the pork industry. Stress applied to livestock before slaughter can lead to undesirable effects on the meat produced from these animals, including both PSE and DFD (see Postmortem quality problems). Preslaughter stress can be reduced by preventing the mixing of different groups of animals, by keeping livestock cool with adequate ventilation, and by avoiding overcrowding. Before slaughter, animals should be allowed access to water but held off feed for 12 to 24 hours to assure complete bleeding and ease of evisceration (the removal of internal organs).


As the slaughter process begins, livestock are restrained in a chute that limits physical movement of the animal. Once restrained, the animal is stunned to ensure a humane end with no pain. Stunning also results in decreased stress of the animal and superior meat quality.

The three most common methods of stunning are mechanical, electrical, and carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. The end result of each method is to render the animal unconscious. Mechanical stunning involves firing a bolt through the skull of the animal using a pneumatic device or pistol. Electrical stunning passes a current of electricity through the brain of the animal. CO2 stunning exposes the animal to a mixture of CO2 gas, which acts as an anesthetic.


After stunning, animals are usually suspended by a hind limb and moved down a conveyor line for the slaughter procedures. They are typically bled (a process called sticking or exsanguination) by the insertion of a knife into the thoracic cavity and severance of the carotid artery and jugular vein. This method allows for maximal blood removal from the body. At this point in the process, the slaughtering procedures begin to differ by species.


Hogs are usually stunned by electrical means or CO2 gas. Mechanical stunning is not generally used in hogs because it may cause serious quality problems in the meat, including blood splashing (small, visible hemorrhages in the muscle tissue) in the lean and PSE meat.

Hogs are one of the few domesticated livestock animals in which the skin is left on the carcass after the slaughter process. Therefore, after bleeding, the carcasses undergo an extensive cleaning procedure. First they are placed for about five minutes in a scalding tank of water that is between 57 and 63 °C (135 and 145 °F) in order to loosen hair and remove dirt and other material (called scurf) from the skin. The carcasses are then placed in a dehairing machine, which uses rubber paddles to remove the loosened hair. After dehairing, the carcasses are suspended from a rail with hooks placed through the gambrel tendons on the hind limbs, and any residual hair is shaved and singed off the skin.

An exception to this procedure occurs in certain specialized hog slaughter facilities, such as “whole hog” sausage slaughter plants. In whole hog sausage production all the skeletal meat is trimmed off the carcass, and therefore the carcass is routinely skinned following exsanguination.

After cleaning and dehairing, heads are removed and carcasses are opened by a straight cut in the centre of the belly to remove the viscera (the digestive system including liver, stomach, bladder, and intestines and the reproductive organs), pluck (thoracic contents including heart and lungs), kidneys, and associated fat (called leaf fat). The intestines are washed and cleaned to serve as natural casings for sausage products. The carcasses are then split down the centre of the backbone into two “sides,” which are placed in a cooler (called a “hot box”) for approximately 24 hours before fabrication into meat cuts.

Cattle, calves, and sheep

These animals are usually stunned mechanically, but some sheep slaughter facilities also use electrical stunning. The feet are removed from the carcasses before they are suspended by the Achilles tendon of a hind leg for exsanguination. The carcasses are then skinned with the aid of mechanical skinners called “hide pullers.” Sheep pelts are often removed by hand in a process called “fisting.” (In older operations, hides and pelts are removed by knife.) The hides (cattle and calves) or pelts (sheep) are usually preserved by salting so that they can be tanned for leather products. Heads are removed at the first cervical vertebra, called the atlas joint. Evisceration and splitting are similar to hog procedures, except that kidney, pelvic, and heart fat are typically left in beef carcasses for grading. Carcasses are then placed in a cooler for 24 hours (often 48 hours for beef) prior to fabrication into meat cuts.


By-products are the nonmeat materials collected during the slaughter process, commonly called offal. Variety meats include livers, brains, hearts, sweetbreads (thymus and pancreas), fries (testicles), kidneys, oxtails, tripe (stomach of cattle), and tongue. Bones and rendered meat are used as bone and meat meal in animal feeds and fertilizers. Gelatin, obtained from high-collagen products such as pork snouts, pork skin, and dried rendered bone, is used in confections, jellies, and pharmaceuticals. Intestines are used as sausage casings. Hormones and other pharmaceutical products such as insulin, heparin, and cortisone are obtained from various glands and tissues. Edible fats are used as lard (from hogs), tallow (from cattle), shortenings, and cooking oils. Inedible fats are used in soap and candle manufacturing and in various industrial grease formulations. Lanolin from sheep wool is used in cosmetics. Finally, hides and pelts are used in the manufacture of leather.

Meat inspection

Meat inspection is mandatory and has the mission of assuring wholesomeness, safety, and accurate labeling of the meat supply. Although inspection procedures vary from country to country, they are centred around the same basic principles and may be performed by government officials, veterinarians, or plant personnel. For example, in the United States meat inspection is administered through the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-FSIS) and is composed of several distinct programs. In general, these programs are representative of the basic inspection procedures used throughout the world and include antemortem inspection, postmortem inspection, reinspection during processing, sanitation, facilities and equipment, labels and standards, compliance, pathology and epidemiology, residue monitoring and evaluation, federal-state relations, and foreign programs.

Antemortem and postmortem inspection

Antemortem inspection identifies animals not fit for human consumption. Here animals that are down, disabled, diseased, or dead (known as 4D animals) are removed from the food chain and labeled “condemned.” Other animals showing signs of being sick are labeled “suspect” and are segregated from healthy animals for more thorough inspection during processing procedures.

Postmortem inspection of the head, viscera, and carcasses helps to identify whole carcasses, individual parts, or organs that are not wholesome or safe for human consumption.

Reinspection during processing

Although previously inspected meat is used in the preparation of processed meat products, additional ingredients are added to processed meats. Reinspection during processing assures that only wholesome and safe ingredients are used in the manufacture of processed meat products (e.g., sausage and ham).


Sanitation is maintained at all meat-packing and processing facilities by mandatory inspection both before and during the production process. This includes floors, walls, ceilings, personnel, clothing, coolers, drains, equipment, and other items that come in contact with food products. In addition, all water used in the production process must be potable (reasonably free of contamination).

Facilities and equipment

Facilities and equipment are inspected to ensure that they meet safety requirements. Facilities must have sufficient cooling and lighting, and rails from which carcasses are suspended must be high enough to assure that the carcasses never come in contact with the floor. Equipment must be able to be properly cleaned and must not adversely affect the wholesomeness of the products.

Labels and standards

Labels and standards regulations assure that products are accurately labeled, that nutritional information meets requirements, and that special label claims (e.g., lean, light, natural) are accurate. Virtually all meat products must have the following components in their label: accurate product name, list of ingredients (in order of predominance), name and place of business of packer and manufacturer, net weight, inspection stamp and plant number, and handling instructions.


Compliance assures that proper criminal, administrative, and civil sanctions are carried out against violators of food inspection laws. These violations include the sale of uninspected meat, the use of inaccurate labels, and the contamination of products.

Pathology and epidemiology

Pathology and epidemiology programs support the efforts of meat inspectors by working with other public health agencies to minimize the risk from widespread food-poisoning outbreaks. These agencies work to identify the causative agents of food poisoning and prevent repeated occurrences by improving prevention techniques (e.g., proper handling and cooking and prevention of cross-contamination of raw and cooked products).

Residue monitoring and evaluation

Residue monitoring and evaluation programs identify animals containing harmful residues and remove them from the food chain. These residues include toxins from natural sources, from pesticides, from feeds, or from antibiotics administered to animals too soon before slaughter.

Meat grading

Meat grading segregates meat into different classes based on expected eating quality (e.g., appearance, tenderness, juiciness, and flavour) and expected yield of salable meat from a carcass. In contrast to meat-inspection procedures, meat-grading systems vary significantly throughout the world. These differences are due in large part to the fact that different countries have different meat quality standards. For example, in the United States cattle are raised primarily for the production of steaks and are fattened with high-quality grain feed in order to achieve a high amount of marbling throughout the muscles of the animal. High marbling levels are associated with meat cuts that are juicier, have more flavour, and are more tender. Therefore, greater marbling levels—and especially marbling that is finely textured and evenly distributed—improve the USDA quality grade (i.e., Prime, Choice, or Select) of the beef. However, in Australia cattle are raised primarily for the production of ground beef products, and the highest quality grades are given to the leanest cuts of meat.

Some of the characteristics of meat used to assess quality and assign grades include: conformation of the carcass; thickness of external fat; colour, texture, and firmness of the lean meat; colour and shape of the bones; level of marbling; flank streaking; and degree of leanness.

Retail meat cutting

In the American style of meat cutting, whole carcasses are usually fabricated into more manageable primal (major) or subprimal (minor) cuts at the packing plant. This preliminary fabrication eases meat merchandising by reducing variability within the cuts. Primal and subprimal cuts are usually packaged and sold to retailers that further fabricate them into the products that are seen in the retail case.


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