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What Is a Meat Processing Plant?

Various cuts of meat.
Sliced frozen meat.
Meat being packaged at a processing plant.
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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2014
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A meat processing plant is a business that kills and processes animals into meat for human consumption. Meat processing plants are also referred to as slaughterhouses. Animals bred for consumption are sold by farmers, who are paid for the live weight of the animal, and then shipped to a meat processing plant where they are killed using approved methods. After the animals are killed, they are cut apart into common cuts of meat.

Meat processing plants have existed in the United States since 1928. Early European maps suggest meat processing plants in Europe date back prior to the 1900s and were often found in open air markets. Conditions in early meat processing plants in both Europe and the United States were often unsanitary and unsafe. Workers were paid low wages and there were few controls to ensure safe and efficient food production.

Government regulations began evolving during the Industrial Age in both Europe and America. Rules were put into place to ensure the humane treatment of animals, the fair treatment of workers, and the sanitary processing of food. In the US and Europe, civil law controls conditions in most meat processing facilities. Steam, hot water, and organic acids are used to minimize the growth of bacteria and to pack meat safely.

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Most animals at meat processing plants are killed either by a jolt of electricity, CO2 gas, or captive bolt pistol. In some cases, animals must be killed according to kosher laws, if the plant is processing kosher meat. After the animals are killed, their carcasses are hung up and inspected by government agents. In the United States, the Food Safety Inspection service inspects meat, while in Canada the Canadian Food Inspection Agency performs this function.

Generally, each meat processing plant only processes one type of animal. The meat processing plant may pack the meat from this animal using a number of different methods. The meats may be cured, smoked, or cut. Waste products, such as bone and lard, are then sent to rendering plants or waste treatment plants. The meat is then shipped to grocery stores and other buyers or to a cold storage facility.

Some meat processing plants do not slaughter animals at all. Meat processing plants fall into three major categories: slaughter and process plants, processing only plants, and cold storage plants. A processing only plant is a plant that receives animal carcasses and packs the meat for production. A cold storage plant stores meat that was processed at a remote meat processing plant.

Meat processing plants are designed to streamline food production in order to ensure an adequate supply of quality food. In some locations within the United States, Canada, and Europe, farmers who raise meat for consumption must send the meat to processing plants or go through special training to become licensed to process the meat themselves.

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