Because the birds are cleaner, the company needs only chlorine to keep the pathogen counts at this low level, Conklin said. “We’ve never had a listerial issue at our facility; we’ve never had a spike in Salmonella at the harvest facility,” she said. “We’re prepared, but we happily don’t know what it’s like to have to deal with trying to reduce pathogen activity.”
Quality Improvement and Resource Savings
The company also has an automated loading system on the farm, so the birds are not touched until after they are anesthetized. According to Lennon, this automated loading system “completes the cycle. It doesn’t do a lot of good to protect the bird at the plant if there is the potential for damage to the bird when loading it into the truck. It’s very humane and has financial benefits as well.”
Additional investments include a Weber slicer, a grinder from Weiler Food Processing Systems, and a turkey killer machine from Prime Equipment Group in 2009, according to Conklin. “The slicer, from a quality perspective, eliminated a lot of the tears, shredding, and frayed edges,” Conklin said. The addition of the slicer also improved the temperature for slicing, keeping it consistently at 38°F, which helped control potential pathogen growth and led to a 10-day increase in shelf life. Production yields improved by 3% to 5%, and the length of the logs to slice increased from 34” to 46”. Both of these improvements have reduced waste.
After implementing the grinder, Michigan Turkey Producers saw a 90.5% improvement in gravimetric analysis, a 50.3% improvement in calcium content, and a 55.7% improvement in bone equivalency, Conklin said.
The new kill machine, designed by Rikus Koops in the Netherlands, allows for more consistently placed cuts on the neck and reduces the amount of blood left in the bird. Adding the new loader, kill machine, and slicer yielded a sales increase of more than 30% for cooked product sales, according to the award application.
The company also implemented water recapture stations at the ends of chillers, or large water baths that cool the heat down quickly, Lennon said. These water recapture systems have yielded nearly $200,000 in savings each year. Because the company has to pay for both incoming and outgoing water, this has resulted in double savings. In addition, because they are capturing refrigerated water, refrigerated water use has dropped by 20 million gallons per year, almost nine percent of the volume of water that enters the facility yearly. In turn, this has reduced the amount of water that must be cooled down, which has also led to electrical cost savings.
Finally, Michigan Turkey Producers replaced its lighting system with more natural light rather than fluorescent lighting. With this induction lighting system, the company expects to reduce energy use by 1.36 million kWh per year.
We typically, as an organization, are not shy about taking a chance and putting our money out there if we think it’s going to pay back later.
Dan lennon, president and CEO, Michigan Turkey Producers
Secrets to Success
According to Lennon, the company’s employees are essential to its success. “It’s everyone’s job to point out a deficiency, an issue, or an error and then keep that from leaving the plant,” he said.
Conklin pointed out that communication is key to ensuring that all employees are looking out for safety and quality. Associates attend both weekly and monthly meetings with managers. “That constant communication has helped our associates become more aware of all the aspects of their job,” Conklin said.