On Tuesday, July 15th, 2014, employees from Beef Northwest Boardman and Wilson Cattle Company went on a plant tour of AB Foods in Toppenish, WA. AB Foods is where BNW sends the Country Natural Beef cattle for harvesting. BNW also sends a few generic cattle there. Katelyn Smith & Carly Davis from WCC, and Crystal Longfellow & Jillian Cutsforth from BNW, met at AB Foods at 9am to begin the tour. Also on the tour were new employees from Country Natural Beef, Davida Plaisted & Sherrie Lockwood, & CNB Ranchers Richard & Connie Dunham of Enterprise, OR.
We were met by Kati Elder from AB Foods and taken to a room to put on protective clothing. We had to put on hairnets, hard hats, shoe/boot coverings, freezer coats, and lab coats. This was for our own safety as well as to prevent our contaminating the beef. We divided into two groups and started at the END of the process – in the freezer with the boxed meat.
Each box is barcoded with the information needed for sorting – date, cut, program. Each box of CNB meat also has a CNB label, and they have their own branded boxes too. ABF has a main freezer kept at about 30F, and also has two flash freezers; one at -20F and one at -40F. They export a lot of meat to the Far East, and ABF Toppenish is the export hub for the company.
Then we went to the packaging area. Whole muscle cuts were being vacuum sealed, then boxed. Core samples are taken out of trim bins to test for E. Coli and other food borne pathogens. The trim is the meat and fat left-over from the fabrication process. It eventually becomes hamburger.
The carcasses are broken down into four major sections: Chuck, Rib, Loin, & Round. They are put onto different conveyor lines and further cut down into the roasts & steaks we see in the store. Just before the breakdown process, the carcasses are passed by a camera that grades based on the area of the 12th rib. The camera-grading is backed up by a USDA inspector.
We then went into the large cooler where the carcass halves were hanging. They hang in the cooler for 24-48 hours to chill before going on to grading and cutting. Cleanliness is, of course, a very big necessity. The carcass goes through a hot water cabinet and an antimicrobial bath right before going in the cooler.
Right after the carcass is split, it is examined by USDA inspectors to check for any abnormalities. The carcass halves are tagged to keep track of slaughter date, weight, lot number, and individual carcass number. This also helps keep track of animals in specific programs like CNB.
Every part to the carcass is utilized in some way. The internal organs are cleaned and usually exported to other countries where such items are more popular. The hides are kept and cleaned and prepared to be shipped off to a leather factory. The blood is even kept and ends up in fertilizer. AB Foods is very conscious of low-stress animal handling. Their pens and protocols based on Dr. Temple Grandin's designs.
Over all, a great experience that everyone should do at least once. And, if directly engaged in working with cattle or the cattle paperwork, should go more often.
Take a Virtual Tour of AB Foods here: Virtual Tour