An inside look at pork processing

A video tour inside a pork processing operation brings transparency to the process.

When pigs arrive at a packing plant, they are unloaded in a calm manner and allowed to rest for a couple of hours prior to slaughter. This reduces the incidence of meat quality defects such as pale, soft, and exudative (PSE) pork. During this time, animals have constant access to water. Pigs are moved in small groups using plastic paddles and sorting boards or curtains.

Pigs are commonly stunned using CO2 (animals are lowered into a chamber that is 90 percent CO2) stunning or electrical stunning, whereas cattle are stunned using captive bolt. Stunning renders an animal insensitive to pain and unconscious instantly. This must be done before slaughter occurs. Humane animal handing and slaughter are required by the Humane Slaughter Act that is overseen by the U. S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service.

A video showing the process and inside of a pork packing plant is available from the American Meat Institute’s Glass Walls Project. The video is narrated by Dr. Temple Grandin, world renowned expert on animal handling and humane slaughter. This video goes into detail showing the entire process from unloading through cutting the meat into pieces of subprimals.

After stunning and bleeding occurs, the carcasses are put in a hot water bath to loosen hair follicles. After that, the carcasses are put into a machine that tumbles them to remove the hair. This does not cause bruising because the blood has already been removed from the pigs during the bleeding step. After the carcasses are dehaired in the tumbler, they move through a singer. This removes any remaining hair and also gives additional food safety benefits of decreasing surface pathogens.

The pork carcasses are gutted and split in half and sent through a rapid chill at very cold temperatures (-4 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit) to improve meat quality. Carcasses are then chilled 24 to 48 hours before they are cut into smaller pieces like ham, loins, picnic and Boston butt shoulders, and bellies which are used to make bacon.

Michigan State University Extension recognizes sanitation efforts that occur in meat processing facilities every day. Every piece of equipment and parts are thoroughly washed, scrubbed, sanitized and rinsed with extremely hot water after each day of processing.

Other articles in this series:

An inside look at beef processing

An inside look at turkey processing 

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