ARS studies best method to chill chickens
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists recently
compared two poultry carcass chilling methods to determine which better suits
Food technologists Julie Northcutt and Doug Smith* evaluated the two
primary industry methods in terms of meat quality, food safety and water
Carcass temperatures must be quickly lowered after poultry slaughter to
prevent growth of bacterial pathogens that may cause food-borne illness when
consumed. Immersion chilling - chicken carcasses are submerged in tanks of cold
water or an ice-and-water mix - is the predominant method now used in the US.
Dry-air chilling blasts carcasses with cold air, while evaporative-air chilling
combines cold air blasts with water misting. Some poultry processors are
beginning to convert to dry-air chilling.
According to the ARS, both immersion chilling and air chilling met criteria
for limiting bacterial pathogen growth on carcasses. However, tender chicken is
also very important to consumers. During commercial processing, whole carcasses
are aged under refrigerated conditions to allow muscle fibres to relax and
become tender. Research showed that air chilling led to better quality of breast
fillets and provided higher cooked-meat yields than immersion chilling.
Depends on water
In the end, water may be the most important factor in deciding which
chilling method may be most feasible in the future. It takes an average of
seven gallons of water to process each chicken, and switching to air chilling
can save a minimum of one-half gallon per bird. Processors could save about
4.5 billion gallons of water per year if all 9 billion birds processed annually
in the US were air-chilled.
* Julie Northcutt was formerly with the ARS Poultry Processing and
Swine Physiology Research Unit at Athens, and food Doug Smith in the ARS Quality
and Safety Assessment Research Unit at Athens.
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