Nightmare shift at the chicken gulag
Two hundred of us work nights in “the gulag” as some of us call the giant chicken slaughterhouse and processing factory. Many of us have been bused in 50 miles from Ipswich and Great Yarmouth. We started at 6.35pm and now it’s 1.40am, so there are 75 minutes to go. The sound system blares All You Need Is Love, but buy canada goose coat uk we are showing violent tendencies towards what management calls “the product”.
Thousands on thousands of footless, headless canada goose, empty, shorn chickens, each hung by a leg stump from a steel shackel on a 400-yard-long line, lurch towards us in a macabre dance.
Posing as a Frenchman but giving my own name, providing no references or insurance number, I am employed for £4.60 an hour at Grampian Country Foods’ factory at Eye in Suffolk. Grampian is Britain’s largest agri-food business, turning over £860 million a year. This factory supplies about 700,000 chickens a week to Sainsbury, Tesco, Somerfield, Asda and other supermarkets.
This is Night One. Five new recruits and I have had two minutes’ on-the-job training, been warned about repetive strain injury and backache, been told by a video how bugs breed and why personal hygiene is vital.
But no one has mentioned diseased birds or what to look for. A notice says this week’s “focus” is on “hygiene, neck cleaning, cavity contents and quality faults”.
Tonight we are in “Wholebird” section, where the best roasting chickens are prepared. Teams of people best canada goose jacket for women ram frozen stuffing into their cavities. I’m a trusser. Every few seconds, one is shot towards us. Mike grabs them first, saws off the footless legs, and chucks the carcasses on a conveyor belt. Five of us are on the best canada goose jacket reddit line, and we barely exchange words except to say that we hate the job. The birds are cool and goosepimply, uncannily human to touch.
Ricky, a contract worker best price canada goose parka on £4 an hour, takes one. He slams it on the groin-level stainless steel bench, rams it against buy canada goose jacket cheap his body in simulated sex, bends its legs hard down, shoves a gloved hand inside the carcase, rips out a handful of congealed fat and the remains of some gut and bloody tissue. He laughs.
He turns it over, folding the empty neck beneath the body, twisting the tiny, slippery wings backwards to assume the supermarket’s preferred “trussed” position.
The chickens are coming fast now and some carcasses fall on the floor. Most are chucked into sinks for washing but one or two go straight back on the belt. Some are machine-damaged, others show signs of bleeding. The odd one is bright yellow. We chuck them. The line manager tells us to speed up.
John, opposite me, picks a bird. A wing bone has been smashed and sticks through the flesh and there are pink blotches on its flesh – a sign, we have been told, of probable contamination.
John’s back aches, his wrists hurt and the smell of heated chicken gut, blood and flesh pervades everything. He speaks for several of us. “I don’t care”.
As we have all done 500 times or more tonight, he twists a high authentic canada goose jacket sale tensile string band round the legs, passes it under the neck and round to its breast bone, and chucks the product on the belt. No one can see the patches. It looks neat and tidy, passes down the line to be packed with nine others in a supermarket container. No-one sees what he’s done.
The mutilated, perhaps diseased, chicken should have been sent with other second-quality birds for mechanical recovery of its meat for burgers, nuggets or catfood. It may or may not be spotted by one of the two or three company inspectors who work each shift.
The best way to check for contamination, like salmonella, septicaemia or canada goose coat – victoria campylobacter, is to check the heart or the guts or put them under the microscope. But so many birds are being processed, the can you buy canada goose jacket online inspectors can only take samples or look for obvious signs.
I ask a supervisor how we know if the chickens are good.
“We have two inspectors. They are very good.”
“But we are making 8,000 chickens in one hour. It’s not possible.”
“Don’t worry, these are the best. Go back to your line.”
The works are clean and bright. The company is proud of its hygiene and food safety record, quoting salmonella figures of 5 per cent or less.
Men hose down floors, others wash chickens that have fallen on the floor. There are strict rules and we must wash hands, gloves and boots when entering or leaving the factory.
But a 15-minute break every three hours can be reduced to less than five minutes after we have removed aprons and overalls, queued for the taps and troughs, been to the toilet and repeated the process on the way back. People are reprimanded for being seconds late on the line. A few ignore or bypass the hygiene rules in their rush to leave.
But where the workers must be scrupulously hygienic, the machines may be sprayed down but comprehensively cleaned only after a long day’s operation. The potential for cross contamination between healthy and diseased birds can be great in all factories, say government meat hygiene inspectors of this common practice.
Night 2: We pack crates, truss birds and unwrap hundreds of chickens marked “special offer” at £2.49 for Sainsbury’s, and slightly cheaper for Asda and Somerfield. Sainsbury’s, says a superviser, is “very fussy” about how its birds look and even a bit of string showing is unacceptable. “The others aren’t so bad”, she says.
A manager says the Eye chickens are all bred by the company. Fed non-stop and given antibiotics, by the end of their 40-odd day life, many will have weak bones.
When they arrive round the back of the slaughterhouse, trucked in from as far away as Scotland when there’s a rush on, “shacklers” grab them out of crates by their legs and hang them live and upside down on the line.
“They’re frightened when they come,” says one shackler. “Some are good but others are disgusting. Depends on the supplier, really.”
If their life is short, the chickens’ death is quick. Many panic and defecate when put on the line which carries them to an electrocuted stun bath.
From there, they move to the “Killing Room”, a noisy, smelly and bloody place where giant blades shear off their heads. The workers can be splattered with blood and the machinery is often thick with feathers and flesh. The room is regularly cleaned.
They are then dunked in a scalding tank to loosen their feathers. Invariably, faeces and dirt wash out and by 2am the birds are passing through a vile-smelling chocolate-brown stew. As in other factories, it’s a quite legal “cauldron of potential cross contamination”, canada goose coat $5000 no credit check signature loans says one meat hygiene inspector.
I go walkabout and end up in a hall next to the defeathering machine. Spinning shears coated with feathers, fat and skin are ripping off the plumage. “Good isn’t it?”, says the machine-minder. “It’s a bit of a mess now, but they’ll clean it up soon. You get used to it”
From Defeathering, best canada goose jacket for men the birds pass to the Evisceration Room where the guts and organs are blasted out with water and staff sort the hearts from the livers.
Back in the canteen for the last break of the night, it’s clear that some of us are not feeling well either. Jim complains of back pains and says he won’t be in tomorrow. Few people talk and there are no takers for chicken nuggets.
Desensitised and exhausted, we hold our heads in our hands and stare vacantly ahead until the alarm goes. “I think we are like the chickens”, says Fred, who has worked on the line for years. “See you tomorow?”
Some of the names have been changed
Tomorrow: After E. Coli – continuing illness stalks the blighted Scottish town of Wishaw