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Reducing Poultry Crop Breaks

  Two ARS scientists are helping to reduce the chances that poultry will become contaminated by pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria during processing. Physiologist R. Jeff Buhr and agricultural engineer J. Andra Dickens of the Richard B. Russell Research Center in Athens, Georgia, are currently conducting research to reduce crop breakage and the pathogens associated with it. One significant source of contamination during processing has been the rupture of the bird's crop—a pouch in the neck that stores undigested feed. Crops are known to harbor pathogens like Salmonella. The crop is always removed during processing, but it breaks about 25 percent of the time, spilling its contents into and on the chicken. Buhr and Dickens found two related factors that have bearing on whether crops rupture: the direction in which the crop is removed and the age of the bird at the time of processing. Both factors determine the amount of pressure needed to extract the crop. For 4-week-old broilers, the researchers found it took 2.72 kg of pulling pressure to remove the crop, whereas at 8 weeks of age, 4.27 kg of pressure was required—a 157-percent increase. The standard method of pulling the crop from the carcass through the thoracic (chest) cavity also requires greater pulling pressure. Buhr and Dickens found that taking the crop out through the neck resulted in 95 percent of the crops being removed intact. In contrast, only 64 percent of the crops removed through the thoracic cavity exited without rupturing. Buhr and Dickens say it is too early to recommend changes to the processing industry because their laboratory conditions may not carry through to a commercial setting. In the laboratory, the crop extractions were done manually and not in the automated fashion of poultry processors. But with a 95 percent intact rate when crops were extracted through the neck, this alternative method should be given consideration in automated commercial evisceration systems, according to Buhr.—By Sharon Durham, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff. R. Jeff Buhr and J. Andra Dickens are at the USDA-ARS Richard B. Russell Agricultural Research Center, Poultry Processing and Meat Quality Research Unit, 950 College Station Rd., Athens, GA 30604-5677; phone (706) 546-3339, fax (706) 546-3633.

"Reducing Poultry Crop Breaks" was published in the May 2001 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.


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