Assessing the Food and Environmental Safety and Economic Feasibility of Mobile Slaughter Units for Pasture Poultry Grower

2012 Annual Report for LS11-245

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $240,780.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Alali Walid
University of Georgia

Assessing the Food and Environmental Safety and Economic Feasibility of Mobile Slaughter Units for Pasture Poultry Grower


The demand for locally produced food in the United States continues to grow. Pasture poultry production is a sustainable farming system that has been adopted by many small-scale farmers in the Southeast and elsewhere. Pasture poultry farmers are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to addressing consumer demand for their locally produced chickens because birds processed on-farm are exempted from USDA inspection and do not qualify for USDA Inspected status. Due to this exemption, pasture poultry sales have been limited to sales to household consumers and very few food service market venues. The current Mobile Processing Unit (MPU) Initiative being discussed among pasture poultry farmers and non-profit organizations proposes a solution involving MPUs; a potential USDA inspected facility that could eliminate regulatory impasses, and increase marketability and profitability for farmers. The USDA-FSIS “Mobile Slaughter Unit Compliance Guide”1 provides recommendations for farmers who wish to obtain USDA-inspected status in accordance with FSIS regulations. Due to a lack of data, the guide recommends assessment of the food safety of MPU processing and resulting products, and assessment of the impact of disposal of processing waste on the farming environment. Obtaining the data will help farmers to fulfill a large part of the federal inspection requirements. Since MPU processing would require a substantial economic investment by farmers with already limited resources, an evaluation of the economic feasibility of MPU processing and marketability of the products in comparison with current processing methods would allow farmers to strategize the most beneficial method of pasture poultry production.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The goals of this project are to: 1) determine the food safety risk of MPU processing and product compared to on-farm and processing at small USDA facilities, 2) assess the impact of MPU waste disposal on the environment compared to the other types of processing, 3) assess the economic feasibility of pasture poultry processing using MPU versus other types of processing, and 4) evaluate the consumers’ willingness to pay (WTP) for pasture poultry versus other non-local chicken brands. Information dissemination of the research findings to pasture poultry farmers and training the farmers on food safety, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) programs and Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs) for MPU will be conducted. Knowledge gained from this project will support the pasture poultry farmers by fulfilling a large part of the federal inspection requirements on food safety and environmental impact of MPU processing and products. The project will also generate valuable data to farmers on the economic feasibility of MPU and the market access by examining consumers’ WTP for local products. This will allow them to strategic budgetary decisions with less infrastructure investment risk. This application conforms to organic farming systems priority on evaluation of the biological (microbial contamination) and economic (feasibility and marketability) processes associated with MPU processing/production of organic (all-natural) pasture poultry production systems in the Southeast. The proposed study addresses the mission of the Southern SARE program by assessing the food safety, environment, economics, marketability of agriculture practices (i.e., MPU versus on-farm and small USDA facility processing) that is expected to greatly benefit small-sized pasture poultry farmers and their families.


A principal investigator meeting was held at University of Arkansas-Center for Food Safety on February 1, 2012 to discuss the project plan. A to-do list including a timeline was created for each of the collaborative institutions to complete during the year 2012. The following is a summary of the studies and activities, by objective, accomplished during 2012: Objectives 1: The small-scale, pasture-raised poultry production model is a growing niche in the locally grown food movement. There is limited research that focuses on the food safety of small-scale broiler processing methods. The objective of this study was to compare Salmonella and Campylobacter prevalence and concentrations on pasture-raised broilers processed on-farm, in a small United States Department of Agriculture Inspected slaughter facility (USDA-IF), and in a Mobile Processing Unit (MPU) pilot plant. A total of 120, 100, and 50 post-chill, pasture-raised broiler carcasses were sampled from each processing method, respectively. Pathogen prevalence and concentrations from whole carcass rinses were determined using a 3-tube Most Probable Number (MPN) method for Salmonella and direct plating method for Campylobacter according to the USDA-Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) protocols. Both Salmonella prevalence and concentrations on-farm (89% and 1.78 MPN/carcass [95% CI: 1.60-1.96]), USDA-IF (43% and 0.78 MPN/carcass [95% CI: 0.58-0.98]) were significantly (P <0.05) different. Salmonella was not detected on carcasses processed via the MPU. Campylobacter prevalence was not significantly (P >0.05) different on carcasses processed by the three methods (70% on-farm, 82% USDA-IF, and 100% MPU). The mean log10 Campylobacter concentrations in MPU processed carcasses (5.44 CFU/carcass [95% CI: 5.24-5.63]) was significantly higher (P < 0.05) compared to on-farm (2.32 CFU/carcass [95% CI: 2.06-2.80]) and USDA-IF (2.44 CFU/carcass (95% CI: 2.03-2.85]). Based on the results of this baseline study, most pasture-raised broilers processed by the three methods were contaminated with Salmonella and/or Campylobacter. Further research is needed to assess other potential risk factors such as farm and regional variations that may contribute to the differences in pathogens’ prevalence and concentrations. Objective 2: A growing niche in the locally grown food movement is the small scale production of broiler chickens using the pasture-raised poultry production model. Limited research exists that focuses on Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination in the environment associated with on-farm processing of pasture-raised broilers. The objective of this study was to establish data relative to Salmonella and Campylobacter prevalence and concentration in soil and mortality compost resulting from prior processing waste disposal in the small-scale, on-farm broiler processing environment. Salmonella and Campylobacter concentrations were determined in soil (n=42), compost (n=39), and processing wastewater (PWW; n=46) samples from 4 small broiler farms using a 3-tube Most Probable Number (MPN) method for Salmonella and direct plating method for Campylobacter. Salmonella prevalence and concentration (mean log10 MPN per g or ml) in soil (60%, 0.97 [95% CI: 0.66 to1.27]), compost (64%, 0.95 [95% CI: 0.66 to 1.24]), and wastewater (48%, 1.29 [95% CI: 0.87 to 1.71]) were not significantly different (P>0.05). Although Campylobacter prevalence was not significantly different by sample type (64.3%, 64.3%, and 45.7% in soil, compost, and PWW, respectively), the concentration (mean log10 CFU) of this pathogen was significantly lower (P<0.05) in wastewater (2.19 [95% CI: 0.36 to 3.03]) samples compared to soil (3.08 [95% CI: 2.23 to 4.0]), and compost (3.83 [95% CI: 2.71to 4.95]). These data provide insight into small-scale poultry production waste disposal practices and provides a record of data that may serve as a guide for future improvement of these practices. Further research is needed regarding the small-scale broiler production environment in relation to improving disposal of processing waste for optimum control of human pathogens. Objective 3 The project on the economic feasibility of the mobile processing unit (MPU) has made progress in several directions. First, we have collected data from several sources (recent literature review, market data, farmer survey, etc.) Currently the study has adequate data on the cost side for both fixed and variable costs. The fixed cost makes a comparison among different alternatives related to an MPU (such as buying a new/used unit, leasing a unit, building a unit). The variable costs are divided in two main categories: production cost and processing cost. The latter pays particular attention to the economic feasibility of the MPU processing vs. traditional out of farm processing. We have also collected information on the sale price with respect to the current market conditions in areas of interest and by using the farmer responses to the survey. Second, we have built several scenarios based on different MPU sizes using an operative approach that aims to estimate unitary values (per pound, per bird, etc.) of several important economic variables (e.g. cost, revenues, profit) that will be useful to farmers. Our current (preliminary) findings show that even if the cost side has some variability, it is generally well defined and it ranges in close interval (around $ 8.00-$11.00 per bird). However, more variability may be induced by future market conditions such as the sale price, financial costs, and by the scale effects. Finally, on an effort to obtain additional data from farmers, we have made the survey instrument shorter (reduced it to about 12 questions) and sent it once more to farmers for a better response rate. The final assessment will integrate all these factors in a general net present value framework by taking into account some externalities as well (e.g. reduced use of fertilizer, increase of bug control, etc.). It will also provide simulation under different adoption scenarios in order to provide more insights on the ex-ante benefits of MPUs. Objective 4 Plans to conduct the willingness to pay (WTP) studies in 2013. Education/outreach objective: a. Investigators on this SARE proposal organized a symposia at the 2013 Southern Sustainable Agricultural Worker’s meeting in Little Rock 22 – 26th of January 2013. This was an excellent networking opportunity and we had ample opportunities to share our research findings on Mobile Poultry Processing Units. Kristen Gibson introduced the symposia and there were about 35 participants at our meeting which was on the afternoon of the last day of the conference. Five of the investigators on this SARE proposal were co-presenters and reviewers on our oral presentation. We covered the economics and marketing opportunities for small, medium and large scale mobile processing units. We had several rounds of questions before and after our presentations. One of our industry co-presenters, Featherman, Incorporated also had a booth at the industrial exhibits and did a brisk business. The presenter, Angela Caporelli, from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture made an excellent presentation on the large-scale mobile processing units, the amount of types of training managers and employees of these units need to have and the potential for economic returns. The information about our presentation is below. Mobile Poultry Processing for the Small-Scale Farmer — Have you ever considered putting together a mobile poultry processing unit for a group of producers, but been discouraged by the unknowns? This session will provide an overview of the equipment requirements and options available. It will give an in-depth look at how the State of Kentucky organized their farmer training, HACCP plan development and management team for small-scale poultry processing. In addition, basic business strategies, capital costs, and return on investments for four levels of mobile poultry processing units will be covered. Phil Crandall, University of Arkansas (AR); David Schafer, Featherman Equipment (MO); and Angela Caporelli, Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KY). b. An article “From Food Safety to Economics: Processing Your Chickens for Market” was published in American Pastured Poultry Producers Association Newsletter; issue 72, 2012 to communicate to the studies from objective 1 to pastured poultry farmers nationwide. c. Data on food and environmental safety have been shared with farmers in Georgia. Farmers indicated that data will be used for discussion with Georgia Department of Agriculture on inspection regulations.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The ongoing research will benefit the pastured poultry producers by: 1. Providing pastured poultry producers with data to improve the food safety of the pasture broiler carcasses by reducing Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination prevalence regardless of the processing method 2. Informing pastured poultry producers that in term of food safety; there is no single processing method where chicken carcasses have Salmonella and/or Campylobacter positive contamination prevalence below 40% (considered high when compared to commercially processed chickens). 3. Informing pastured poultry producers that process their chickens on-farm (on-site) that waste disposal is a potential source for pathogen dissemination to the environment (soil and compost). Publications Trimble, L.M, Walid Q. Alali*, Kristen E. Gibson, Steven C. Ricke, Philip Crandall, Divya Jaroni, Mark Berrang. Salmonella and Campylobacter prevalence and concentration on pasture-raised broilers processed on-farm, in a mobile processing unit, and at small USDA-inspected facilities. Food Control. Under review. Trimble, L.M., Walid Q. Alali*, Kristen E. Gibson, Steven C. Ricke, Philip Crandall, Divya Jaroni, Mark Berrang, Mussie Y. Habteselassie. Poul. Sci. Under review. Van Loo, E.J., W. Q. Alali, S. Welander, C. A. O’Bryan, P. G. Crandall, and S.C. Ricke 2013. Independent poultry processing in Georgia: survey of producers’ perspective. Agric., Food, Anal. Bacteriol. 3: (In press). Davis, M.L., P.G. Crandall, C.A. O’Bryan, G. Kostadini, K. E. Gibson, W. Q. Alali, D. Jaroni, S.C. Ricke, and J.A. Marcy. 2013. Mobile poultry processing units: a safe and cost-effective poultry processing option for the small-scale farmer. J. Appl. Poultry Res. (under review). Extension publications From Food safety to economics: Processing your chickens for market. American Pastured Poultry Producers Association Newsletter. November/December 2012. Issue 72. Pages: 6-11. Mobile slaughter units for pastured poultry growers. Sustainable Agriculture at UGA. Fall 2011. Abstracts Trimble, L.M., W.Q. Alali*, M.E. Berrang. Food and Environmental Safety of Pastured Poultry Processed On-farm, in a Mobile Processing Unit or at USDA-Inspected Facility in the Southeastern United States. International Association for Food Protection (IAFP), Providence, RI, July 26, 2012. Trimble, L.M., W.Q. Alali*, M.E. Berrang. Food and Environmental Safety of Pastured Poultry Processed On-farm, in a Mobile Processing Unit or at USDA-Inspected Facility in the Southeastern United States. Poultry Science Association annual meeting, Athens, Georgia, July 10, 2012


Dr. Steven Ricke
Center for Food Safety Director
University of Arkansas
2650 N. Young Avenue
Fayetteville, AR 72704
Office Phone: 4795754678
Dr. Kristen Gibson
Post-doctorate Research Associate
University of Arkansas
2435 N Hatch Ave
Biomass Research Center
Fayetteville, AR 72704
Office Phone: 4795756515
Philip Crandall
University of Arkansas
2650 N. Young Avenue
Fayetteville, AR 72704
Office Phone: 4795757686
Dr. Divya Jaroni
Assistant Professor
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Office Phone: 4057449263
Dr. Genti Kostandini
Assistant Professor
University of Georgia
1109 Experiment Street
Rm 3423
Griffin, GA 30223
Office Phone: 7702287231