“Dedicated employees producing quality products.” This statement, printed on the back of Michigan Turkey Producers employees’ T-shirts, represents the company’s core beliefs and culture. It is because of these “dedicated employees” and “quality products,” as well as several important investments, that Michigan Turkey Producers, a supplier of raw and ready-to-eat turkey products, is the 2009 Food Quality Award recipient.
The judges recognized the company, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., for its consistently strong performance in audits concerning food safety, quality management, animal welfare, and child nutrition. One judge noted the company was “able to use outside resources to augment internal staff and made a commitment to continuous improvement.”
Food Quality magazine presented the Food Quality Award, sponsored by DuPont Qualicon (Wilmington, Del.), on Tuesday, April 13, 2010, at the Food Safety Summit in Washington, DC. Luis Fischmann, global marketing manager at DuPont Qualicon, moderated the awards ceremony. During the ceremony, R. Dale Morton, director of food safety programs for PepsiCo North America and Quaker Tropicana Gatorade, delivered the keynote address, which discussed how to meet the challenges evolving in today’s food safety culture.
A Key Investment
The largest investment Michigan Turkey Producers made toward improving quality and safety was in a CO2 gas stunning system, purchased in 1999—an investment of more than a million dollars, according to Dan Lennon, the company’s president and CEO. This stunning system serves as an alternative to electric stunning before bleeding the bird out and stripping meat off the bone.
Although it was untested, unproven, and there was no backup plan, Michigan Turkey Producers put its faith in the product’s ability to improve quality. “The idea was that we would bring the birds in from the farm, leave them in the cage … and put the bird to sleep using CO2 gas,” Lennon said. “It’s a huge difference, because in electric stunning, the birds need to be physically removed from the cages by hand. It’s a very frightening experience for the bird … they’re hung upside down while they’re still alive … and they’re scared and stressed.”
This stress can lead to pale, soft exudative meat or broken wings, legs, or thighs while the bird is still alive—historically common issues caused by traditional handling practices, Lennon said. Reducing damage to the bird also minimizes or eliminates blood spots in the turkey meat.
We’ve never had a listerial issue at our facility; we’ve never had a spike in Salmonella at the harvest facility. We’re prepared, but we happily don’t know what it’s like to have to deal with trying to reduce pathogen activity.
Tina Conklin, corporate quality assurance manager, Michigan Turkey Producers
The stunning system has also helped to ensure that the birds are cleaner coming into the system, avoiding pathogen issues and reducing the number of antimicrobials used for cleaning. The plant runs a Salmonella positive rate of about 1.54% for a two-year average, according to Tina Conklin, the company’s corporate quality assurance manager. For the last sample set of whole birds that the United States Department of Agriculture analyzed, Michigan Turkey Producers had no positives out of 56—a completely clean set.
“That follows with every 3,000 birds that we test for generic E. coli, total coliforms, and total plate counts,” Conklin said. “Our counts are extremely low … less than five on most of our counts every 3,000 birds.” Also, according to the award application, Michigan Turkey Producers has never had a Listeria monocytogenes positive test result among the 3,495 pieces of product tested since 2006.