Both water and chemicals are critical for food safety in poultry processing and are needed in large amounts. Poultry processors rely heavily on water, using it during processing and for sanitation, with some steps using 80 gallons of water per minute. According to Food Northwest, the entire process uses approximately 3.5 to 7.0 gallons of water for every four-pound average weight bird processed.
Heavy water usage is not only harmful to the environment, but it’s also costly for poultry processing facilities. Facilities must pay for the water and subsequent wastewater treatment before it is discharged from their facilities. The current rate at which processors are using water is unfeasible for the long term when considering challenges such as water shortages, tightening government regulations, and labor struggles. Add the overuse of chemicals and energy to the mix, and processors face a perfect storm of challenges.
How can facilities mitigate some of these concerns? From small, consistent efforts like audits to more significant investments in automated equipment, there are several opportunities to save resources in poultry processing without compromising food safety.
1. Analyze Equipment and Processes to Locate Potential Savings
The first step processors can take in these efforts is to evaluate the main processes and equipment that use the most water. Scalding, de-feathering, eviscerating, washing, cleaning, and conveying require large amounts of water, as do inside/outside washers, chillers, and dip tanks.
At these stages, processors can create significant water and chemical savings using water reclamation and reconditioning, automation, or other efforts. Processing facilities can recoup this water and recirculate it to other equipment upstream, such as eviscerating equipment or scalders. Recuperation can potentially save hundreds of gallons of water from going down the drain.
Additionally, processors can conduct extended runs on equipment like chillers to avoid dumping large amounts of water and chemicals as often, since some facilities are running fewer shifts, thereby using more water for less product. Efforts like restricting water nozzles to higher pressure and lower flow can also add incremental water savings over time. Note that higher pressures can create splash back, which is a food safety concern in RTE areas.
2. Conduct Routine Maintenance on Small Pieces of Equipment
Water nozzles, spray heads, distribution piping, and even heat exchangers are areas where processors may be losing water, chemicals, and energy; they’re also places that are easy to overlook. Specifically, water nozzles can wear down quickly and use much more water than they did when originally installed. Checking water nozzles monthly and replacing them every six months can help processors avoid losing up to several gallons of water per minute. Leaks in the plant distribution system should also be identified and repaired promptly.
3. Automate Sanitation and Intervention Practices
Automating processes and equipment can create the most significant savings throughout a plant and can offset water usage in areas where water is difficult to recoup, such as evisceration. Centralized cleaning systems and low water pressure sanitation units can be particularly effective at reducing water and chemical usage by supplying the correct pressure, flow, and chemical concentration to belts, rotating equipment, and other places requiring sanitation. Some automated sanitation systems have been proven to reduce water usage by 50% and save on waste-water treatment costs. In addition to water savings, automated sanitation systems can help offset the labor shortage issue. Of course, changes to sanitation procedures designed to reduce water consumption should always be verified as effective.
While automated sanitation equipment has been available for some time now, new intervention technologies are revolutionizing how antimicrobials are applied to meat and poultry. Traditional antimicrobial application in poultry processing has been limited to dip tanks or unfocused sprays, using large amounts of water and chemical to ensure efficacy. However, with innovations in electrostatic technology (the same technology used to apply spray paint to cars), poultry processors can now realize significant savings in water and chemistry usage while achieving log increased reductions to aid compliance with new USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service regulations for Salmonella.