Marel: How to process local and organic chicken

In Europe, slower growing “concept chicken” are becoming ever more popular with consumers, who care increasingly about what they are putting in their shopping trolleys. Often, such concept chicken are also called organic, country, label, or biological.

Posted on Nov 24 ,00:05

Marel: How to process local and organic chicken

The best-known concept chicken in Europe are the iconic Label Rouge, Loue and Poulet de Bresse products, reared and sold in France. Both Italy and Spain have their own local specialties, among which are Christmas capons in Italy. These birds are more like the chicken our grandparents remember, longer in the leg with narrower, more pointed breasts. Since the industrial broiler market took off many decades ago, most breeders have concentrated on producing birds, who put on the maximum amount of breast meat in the shortest possible time. The premium consumers are prepared to pay for their concept chicken, varies from market to market. In France, Italy and Spain, consumers really appreciate their traditional local delicacies and are prepared to pay a much higher price for them. In Northern Europe, consumers, new to such products, are happy to pay a bit more but certainly not as much as their French opposite numbers.

The process itself is the same as for standard broilers. There are, however, two caveats. Firstly, modern equipment has been designed to process commercial broilers, which have a completely different shape. Secondly, concept chicken are more valuable, implying a big role for efficiency. Eviscerating concept chicken is where the primary process differs most radically. Modern eviscerating equipment has been designed to handle today’s flatter, wider mass-market broilers, where the accent is on providing as much popular breast meat as possible. Concept chicken with their thinner hocks, longer legs, larger wings and narrower breasts are more like layers. This demands a different approach, which respects the very different ratio between a concept chicken’s constituent parts.

Marel can adapt its Nuova eviscerator to process concept chicken. A U-shaped breast presser accommodates the product’s more pointed breast. Because of its longer legs the machine has to sit lower too. Special devices ensure that concept chicken are positioned correctly, an important pre-condition for eviscerating these products in the best possible way. Lungs must be removed completely and care taken when removing these to avoid damaging the ribs, as rib damage is particularly unwelcome with a potentially more valuable product. The Marel FIM Rotovac Final Inspection Machine ensures complete lung removal with any rib damage kept to an absolute minimum. As with regular broilers, the Marel Nuova eviscerator leaves the kidneys in the abdominal cavity. If there is a need to remove these, as some markets object to their dark color when cooked, this must be done manually.

The ideal situation is if concept chicken can be processed on their own dedicated evisceration line. This is, however, not always possible. When doing regular broilers on the same evisceration line as concept chicken, live bird weights should be roughly comparable. If there is too much difference, yield and quality will suffer. If the same line has to accommodate both products, changeover time from one product to the other can be as little as fifteen minutes. Settings have to be changed and, where concept chicken are sold with their heads still on, the Neck Skin Inspection Machine and the Neck Cracker are switched out of line. Where concept chicken are sold complete with hocks and feet, such products will have to be unloaded ahead of the kill to evisceration line re-hanger and rehung manually to the evisceration line shackle. These can then be handled by all Marel evisceration line automatic equipment. Maximum hourly throughput speeds for concept chicken will always be lower, certainly not faster than 12,000 bph [200 bpm]. At higher speeds, processes become super critical for valuable concept chicken. Concept chicken are also less uniform, making precise processing much more difficult. In addition, when paying more, the consumer expects higher quality!

Looking further afield, the Americas have no concept chicken of their own. In the USA, a lot of broiler meat goes into industrial products such as nuggets. Birds are therefore often grown to heavier weights than elsewhere. These are, however, standard broilers and not concept chicken.

South-East Asia and particularly China is, however, a different story. Here, concept chicken are known as yellow birds and native birds. The market for yellow birds in China is similar to that for standard broilers. The problem is that a 2.5 kg yellow bird can vary significantly by region and breed. Whereas you can reasonably predict what a 3 kg broiler will look like in any market across the world, you can’t do the same for Chinese yellow birds. This makes coming up with standardized automatic solutions challenging to say the least.

In South-East Asia, where native birds are sold whole, damage to heads and feet must be avoided at all costs. Particular attention has to be paid to the kill cut and heads must be free of feathers. Processors often use off-line drum pluckers to avoid damage to hocks and feet, although the labor intensiveness of this process and the rising cost of this labor are forcing them to move to plucking birds in-line in conventional plucking systems. Suffice it to say, Marel pluckers have a system of synthetic guide rails, which in conjunction with crossbars on the killing shackle hold product firmly during the plucking process. This reduces to an absolute minimum the risk of damage to hocks and feet. Yellow Birds and native birds sold with hocks and feet on will need to have these tucked carefully into the abdominal cavity. It is possible to tuck in the feet before chilling, but it is more common to do so after whole bird grading, even if they are less flexible at that stage.

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