An inside look at turkey processing

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

Modern technology and equipment is helpful in handling animals in a manner that minimizes stress on them. For instance, turkeys are loaded into trucks using conveyor belts that keep the turkeys upright and minimize fatigue on employees that are loading the trucks. Turkeys are able to stay in the holding crate from the trailer until it is time to unload them for stunning. Unloading is done in almost full darkness to keep birds calm.

Turkeys are commonly stunned using CO2 stunning or electrical stunning which can occur in a waterbath where a current is delivered at the same time the head is immersed in water. Stunning renders an animal insensitive to pain and unconscious instantly. This must be done before slaughter occurs. The Poultry Products Inspection Act is overseen by the U. S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service and allows each step of the process to be monitored.

After turkeys are stunned they are bled. Scalding occurs to loosen the feathers before removal. The guts are removed and carcasses go into tanks of chilled water for several hours to lower the temperature of the carcass rapidly. Turkey carcasses are removed from the chilled water and further cut into different parts and pieces made available for purchase by institutions, restaurants, and grocery stores.

Different food safety interventions are included throughout processing to minimize contamination of bacteria that may cause foodborne illness. Michigan State University Extension recommends proper handling and cooking of poultry is important to ensure food safety.

A video showing the process and inside of a turkey processing plant is available from the American Meat Institute’s Glass Walls Project in cooperation with the National Turkey Federation. 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 walking through barns of finished turkeys ready for market to cutting the turkey carcasses into parts and pieces for sale.

Other articles in this series:

An inside look at Beef processing

An inside look at pork processing